In which Winnie the Pooh stars in an R-rated slasher film

NEW YORK — The Hundred Acre Wood has seen some pretty disturbing things over the years. A shortage of honey jars. Rather stormy days. The ever-present threat of a Heffalump.

But in Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey, a new microbudget R-rated horror film, Pooh wades into far darker territory than even Eeyore could have imagined. After saying things like “a hug is always the right size” for 95 years, Pooh – newly copyrighted – is now violently terrorizing an isolated home of young women.

Countless cherished characters have already entered the public domain, but perhaps never as abruptly and wildly as Pooh.

Pooh, Piglet, Kanga, Roo, Owl, Eeyore and Christopher Robin all entered the public domain on January 1st last year when the copyright expired on AA Milne’s 1926 book Winnie-the-Pooh, illustrated by EH Shepard. Now, just a year later, Pooh and Piglet can be found on a murderous rampage in theaters nationwide – a dizzying development that has happened before a bear could say, “Oh, the bother.”

Depending on how you look at it, Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey is either a sick way to capitalize on a beloved bear or a brilliant piece of foresight in independent filmmaking. Either way, it’s probably a harbinger of what’s to come.

In the next 10 years some of pop culture’s most famous characters – including Bugs Bunny, Batman and Superman – will enter the public domain, or at least their earliest incarnations. Some elements of Pooh are still taboo, like his red shirt, as they apply to later interpretations. Tigger, who debuted in 1928’s The House at Pooh Corner, is not public until 2024.

Many have circled the next January 1st. Then the original version of Mickey Mouse from Steamboat Willie goes into the public domain. It’ll be open in season on the face of the Walt Disney Co. — or at least that early whistling variety of Mickey.

Pop culture as a concept was born in the 1920s, which means many of its most indelible — and still very culturally present — works will enter the public domain in the years to come. There will be all sorts of new and unlikely contexts for some of these characters. Some might be wonderful, some schlocky. But Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey may just be a taste of what’s to come.

“When Superman and Batman enter the public domain, I’m sure there will be some wild movies,” says Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey writer, director and co-producer Rhys Waterfield. “This is going to create so many different and cool unique iterations. I could do one.”

Although “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey” was made for less than $100,000, it will hit approximately 1,500 screens in North America on Friday, an unusually wide release for such an underfunded film. It has already made $1 million in Mexico and has booked many more international territories. For Waterfield, a British film producer of direct-to-DVD titles (credits include Dinosaur Hotel and Easter Killing), it’s already a success beyond expectations.

“I kind of thought this could get a little theatrical release in some places and do pretty well commercially,” says Waterfield.

In a 2012 Statista study of entertainment franchises, Winnie the Pooh ranked Mickey Mouse 3rd, behind only Pokémon and Hello Kitty. And unlike them, Pooh is a true religion because of his kind-hearted jokes and contented spiritual attitude. Pooh is both a gentle sage and a round-bellied toon. When Waterfield noticed Pooh spilling over into the public domain, “I had a spark in my eye,” he says.

Here was coveted intellectual property that could sell almost any film. “I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t know who Winnie the Pooh is,” Waterfield said in a recent phone interview from Amsterdam.

But certainly not everyone was so happy with the idea of ​​one of the most benevolent bears becoming a ferocious monster. Waterfield says he receives daily messages telling him he’s evil and even some death threats. One person said they were calling the police.

“You have to be pretty thick-skinned to do a movie like this,” says Waterfield. “It confuses me. People think that creating an alternate version of him somehow invades their minds and destroys their memories. When I get claims that I’ve ruined people’s childhoods, I get really confused. I just brush it off and keep going to make more of it.”

Waterfield is already planning sequels starring Peter Pan, Bambi and many more. (Felix Salten’s book “Bambi, ein Leben im Wald” also entered the public domain last year.)

Jennifer Jenkins, law professor and director of Duke’s Center for the Study of Public Domain, is used to operating in a relatively quiet and Byzantine realm of copyright and thorny legal issues. She writes an annual column for Public Domain Day on January 1st. But nothing made her phone ring like “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey.”

The film clearly struck a chord; Millions watched the trailer online. (Typical comment: “I can’t believe this movie is real.”) And Jenkins, who firmly believes in the long-term benefits of public domain, was a little confused by the storm thrown up by a movie like Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey.” She likens public issues like this to saying that free speech is a right, regardless of whether you agree with what’s being said.

“Some uses of public domain material will be welcome to some and disturbing to others,” says Jenkins. “But I don’t think new content consistently detracts from the value of the original work. I have the original books. I adore her. The fact that this slasher film is out doesn’t affect how I feel about AA Milne’s original creation or EH Shepard’s pencil sketches.”

It’s worth noting that much of the Disney empire itself was built in the public domain. ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is from Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s 1756 version of the fairy tale. ‘Sleeping Beauty’ is from Charles Perrault’s 1697 fairy tale. ‘Aladdin’ is from the folk tale collection The Book of a Thousand and Ones Night”.

While Jenkins can’t think of too many characters who’ve had as harrowing an entry into the public domain as Pooh, films like 2016’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and the 2021 book The Great Gatsby Undead are points of reference.

“People love to add zombies to public domain works,” says Jenkins.

To them, “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey” may not be the most glorious example of the impact of public domain, but it is part of a process on which human creativity depends and thrives. “Blood and Honey” may not leave a lasting mark in the Hundred Acre Woods, but something will one day attribute it to the growing pains.

“The fact that some people might be disturbed or disgusted by this particular reuse of some Winnie the Pooh characters does not detract from the value of the public domain,” says Jenkins. “That’s how people have made it throughout history. They have always referred to or been inspired by previous work. With this film, or any other Winnie the Pooh and Piglet re-use, time will tell if films like this will be rewarded in the market or have an enduring appeal.

“My thing is always: time will tell.”


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