When it was announced earlier this year that indie filmmaker Alex Ross Perry would be writing a live action Winnie the Pooh for Disney, there were quite a few surprised reactions. Even Perry himself knows he’s not the ‘traditional’ choice to write a live action rendering of the classic. The writer/director specializes in the confounding intricacies of adult relationships: Queen of the Earth, Listen Up Phillip, The Color Wheel – none of which prepare you for a foray into the world of stuffed teddy bears and honey; but in speaking with the filmmaker this past weekend at the Los Cabos International Film Festival, a children’s film was exactly what he had hoped to do next.
“I had been talking about a children’s property I was interested in, which of course seems surprising to everyone,” Perry stated, “It was just one of the things after Listen Up Phillip that I said to people that I care about. Nothing happened with [the children’s adaptation]; but eight months later, [my agent] randomly called me and said ‘Hey I was on the phone with someone at Disney and they’re trying to get [Winnie the Pooh] going. Do you want to talk with them about it? It’s similar to the thing you were trying to do before.’ I said, ‘Yeah – I will earn that job. I will earn that job the minute they talk to me.”
Ross Perry has up-to now written only his own original material; Winnie the Pooh will be his first stab at writing for pre-existing characters. “I’m learning now about writing in a voice of something you didn’t create” he confides, “There’s eight animal friends in the movie and each one has a specifically distinctive voice that everybody remembers exactly the way it is. So it’s different…”
I press if he’s attempting to recapture those same voices or put his own specific spin on it. Perry answered succinctly – “You can’t give people a movie that is different from what they remember otherwise they’ll hate it.” The eight characters will “represent the part of the story they represent”; but Perry is quick to add – “Everything else is new.”
Tonally – Alex Ross Perry seems to be going for a more somber take on the children’s classic. I ask what films he’s looking to – and he reveals it’s not necessarily a children’s film that has inspired him. “There’s a lot inspired by the relationship between David and Teddy in AI” Perry explains, “That’s not really a children’s film at all. Crushingly depressing. But the relationship between human and toy bear in that movie is pretty spot on. And Fantastic Mr. Fox is something I’ve been talking about and thinking about because it has a lot of characters and each one is pretty distinct. It’s a fun movie and it works for a four year old and for a thirty year old. But David and Teddy in AI is the relevant model.”
Ross Perry continues – “We’re looking at Toy Story a lot because that’s a thing about toys that are alive just as Pooh Bear and his friends are all stuffed animals. Those films are all emotionally satisfying and classy and clever in a really sophisticated way. Last time when I was out at Disney, we watched forty minutes of Regarding Henry. That’s part of where our heads are at with this type of movie. Holiday was also a film we talked about a lot for some reason. It’s all pretty surprising.”
Besides Winnie the Pooh, Disney has a number of live action adaptations currently in the works. Jon Favreau’s Jungle Book and David Lowery’s Pete’s Dragon are set for release next year and Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast will follow in 2017.
The Los Cabos International Film Festival ran from Nov 11th-Nov 14th