“It’s a tough job,” says the recognizable voice from the other end of the phone, “and somebody’s got to do it! It might as well be me. Hoo Hoo!”
To 40 years of fans the bouncy bravado can come from one of A.A. Milne’s most beloved creations, Tigger. The spring-tailed super-feline has been charming the socks off of kids since he exploded on the big screen in the Oscar-winning Disney short “Winnie The Pooh & The Blustery Day” back in 1968.
Of course, in those days, Pooh and Tigger were voiced by two legends in the acting field, Sterling Holloway and Paul Winchell, respectively. Holloway passed away decades ago while Winchell left this plane in 2005.
So who is the voice on the other end of the line? Why the man who replaced both of them, a man who is not exactly considered a lightweight in the voice world either, Jim Cummings.
“I feel pretty honored to be walking in their footsteps,” says Cummings, back in his natural voice. “I honestly feel I’m the torchbearer for the trail they blazed. One thing I’ve learned is a generation, when you talk in terms of Winnie The Pooh and Tigger, is only about three years. After that amount of time, the last batch has grown to more mature things and you have a whole new batch of sweetie pies out there all enamored with Winnie The Pooh. I’ve got some of my own, so I know what it’s like.”
Indeed, Cummings does. He started in animation in the mid-80s, quickly picking up work on Transformers (Afterburner), Duck Tales (El Capitan) and Chip’n Dale’s Rescue Rangers (Monterey Jack). His incredible range and versatility was noted by no less than Mel Blanc, who was quoted as telling the industry to look out for Cummings.
“This guy’s really got something,” Blanc said, a line Cummings likes to use a lot these days. Who can blame him?
His real breakthrough into lead work came in 1988, when he did his first job as Pooh in Winnie The Pooh Friend-ship: Tigger-ific Tales. As intimated before, Holloway was long gone from this planet, but Paul Winchell was still Tigger at that time. Cummings would first step into the role of Tigger in 1996 with a Pooh Halloween special entitled Boo To You, Too. Things started to get interesting after that.
“I absolutely did know Paul,” says Cummings. “I knew him well during the last years of his life, when he was going back and forth from South Africa, doing research. He was really like Da Vinci. He designed one of the prototypes for one of the first artificial hearts. He was also going back and forth to Africa to try and solve some of the hunger problems there. In fact, how I got the role of Tigger is initially when he would go I would pinch hit for him.”
Indeed. In 1998, on A Winnie The Pooh Thanksgiving special, both Cummings and Winchell are credited on the role of the terrific tiger. By 1999, it was handed over completely to Cummings with The Tigger Movie. From that point on, Cummings would voice both Pooh and Tigger. There’s some controversy over the transition. Rumors said Winchell didn’t take losing the job too well, apparently. Cummings has his own point of view.
“What actually happened is they decided to recast the entire cast,” he says. “They then did some tests and I came in first as Pooh and second on Tigger. Now when Paul was around, he was certainly Tigger. Then in 1999 he apparently decided to retire and I’ve been the voices of Tigger and Pooh since then, full time.”
If you want to see just how stellar Cummings’ work (with or without Winchell) truly is, you’d find no better example than the just re-released, 10th Anniversary edition of The Tigger Movie.
Originally released in 2000, the film revolves around Tigger realizing he really is, as his song about himself declares, “the only one” of his kind. As far as he knows, he has no family, no family tree. This sets him on a quest that is probably one of the darkest in the Pooh universe, actually putting the characters in the equivalent of life-threatening situations.
Of course, it gets resolved; it’s a Pooh movie after all. Still, with songs from the legendary Sherman Brothers, solid directing and screenplay by Jun Falkenstein and a voice cast that includes the likes of the late John Fiedler (Piglet), Peter Cullen (Eeyore) and John Hurt (Narrator), it stands as one of the best of the post-60s Pooh films made.
Another reason, obviously, is Cummings work on both Tigger and Pooh. The DVD includes some earlier Pooh projects; ones where Winchell and Cummings worked together. The amazing thing is Cummings’ Tigger is almost indistinguishable from Winchell’s. Then again, it seems Cummings has created a solid routine about both these characters.
“Actually, I would do Winnie first,” says Cummings. “Then I would bounce over to do my Tigger chores. Pooh is a little bit easier to do. He’s a little higher in register, which is another reason why I address him first. Actually, the voice of Pooh comes from a different spot in the instrument than Tigger.
“Then again, I think it’s important to keep the performances pristine. I don’t want any spillover. I’m one of those guys who doesn’t take himself very seriously, but I do take my work very seriously. As a result I try to put out the best that I can because--My gosh!--they go out and stay out there forever.”
Apparently this kind of work habits have truly paid off for Cummings. If you look under his name on the IMDB, he is listed in over 300 different animation projects.
“I don’t know who at the IMDB puts all that I’ve done on there, but bless their hearts because I wouldn’t have done it,” Cummings says with tongue firmly planted in cheek. “Then again, I’m glad someone did. What can I tell you? It was the stuff that used to get me kicked out of class. The joke's on them now. The dog barking in the back of the room was always me. Now I get paid to do Tigger.”
In fact, he’s still being paid to do Tigger, and that willy nilly silly old honey loving bear, Pooh, too. During the interview he also did a mean version of Eeyore (although one gets the impression Peter Cullen’s job is safe in that department). His more recent work in that arena was a TV movie entitled Tigger & Pooh and a Musical Too, and before that a Disney CGI series entitled My Friends Tigger & Pooh. In between he’s appeared in everything from Star Wars Clone Wars (Hondo) to Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (Pete), subbed for Dustin Hoffman on The Secrets of the Furious Five D2D and will be in the upcoming Disney feature film The Princess and the Frog.
In other words, we shouldn’t be surprised if, at this rate, he is rapidly approaching his 500th or so job.
“…Well, someone’s gotta do it!” Cummings again says in his Tigger voice…and it feels right when he says it, too.
NEXT COLUMN: Miyazaki’s Ponyo. ‘Nuff Said.