Jim Cummings

Jim Cummings – The Character Actor You Don’t See But Have Heard More Than You Know

Jim Cummings
Jim Cummings: Photo credit: Louise Manning Bishop / MomStart.com

Of all the people that we would meet and interview for Christopher Robin, I was looking forward to Jim Cummings the most! I would soon learn that this voice, or rather character, actor that no one sees was charming, funny and a dream interview. If you weren’t aware, Jim is the voice for both Winnie the Pooh and Tigger. On my recent trip to California I was hosted by Disney to attend the Christopher Robin Premiere on the Walt Disney Studios Lot and I was also able to interview many members of the cast. Disney took care of my airfare and accommodations, plus meals and some small gifts. I was not paid for my participation and all opinions are my own. I may link to items on Amazon in this article, they are affiliate links for which I receive a small amount of money at no cost to you. Please enjoy this Interview with Jim Cummings. I had such a fun time interviewing him and even got in multiple questions. What follows is a lively discussion with Jim.

On Sculpting Voices and Switching Between Them.

When asked how difficult it was to switch between the voices of Pooh and Tigger Jim dropped right into character of Pooh to say, “It’s very hard. It’s tough to do.” Then he switched back to his own voice and explains how he has to conjure up a sweet spot and from there, “I just bounce” in the Tigger voice. It was delightful to see all the bloggers light up at that.

Speaking of lighting up. Prior to Jim’s interview we interviewed Marc Forster, the Director of the movie. We were all out taking the group photo and as we were standing there Jim said, “Smile.” But he said it in the Winnie the Pooh voice and everyone couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear. There is something so sweet and innocent about that voice and when you are not expecting to hear it it makes you smile even more. It is that reaction you get when you first hear Pooh’s voice in the video below.

I was then able to ask Jim how he comes up with the voices for his characters. His response was interesting. He said that he sculpts it. It is like audio sculpting. He’s not just creating a voice but a whole character and the voice is just a part of that. You have to be able to make everything sound like that character from their voice to their hiccups, sneezes and more. He also works with the animators, the producer and writers to craft that voice. He gave an example on how he came up with Darkwing Duck and I wish I could share the audio of that segment. This is what he said.

“Cause Dark Wing for example wasn’t the biggest guy in the world but he wasn’t tiny, he wasn’t a mouse. They wanted him to be fairly bodacious and boisterous but not over the top. He wasn’t Goofy. Like with “The Terror that Flaps in the Night”, you bring it down. It wasn’t going to quack, per se. We didn’t have to give him a lisp or anything weird, you just go, ‘oh, yeah, well, mm, okay, yeah, that’s good.’ And that’s kind of it.”

I can’t share that audio but I found a recording session where Jim reprises his role as Darkwing Duck for Disney’s new DuckTales show. That gives you an idea of how Darkwing Sounds.

What was it like Bringing this Live-Action Pooh to Life.

Winnie the Pooh has been a part of Jim Cummings’ life for thirty years now. At least voicing Pooh, he’s been a fan much longer. At the time of the interview Jim had not seen the whole movie, he’d seen about 70% of it through ADR and more. From what Jim has seen and worked on he could tell us that he loves the reimagining and that Marc’s (Forster) vision is sublime. I have to certainly agree there. Marc and the entire cast has created a sweet endearing movie that is certainly worth your time and attention.

Jim Cummings
Jim Cummings: Photo credit: Louise Manning Bishop / MomStart.com

The Winnie the Pooh generation is every three and a half years

Jim went on to say that it feels great to be associated with this movie and the ‘universe’ Hundred Acre Wood. Franchise just wasn’t the word to describe it, the legacy of Winnie the Pooh is much more. Jim describes what it is like to be the voice of Pooh and how there are so many fans. “I’ve jokingly said, you know, ‘Winnie the Pooh generation is every three and a half years because… brand new set of Pooh fans.’ It’s joyous. One of the best things about my job is that when I’ll do a voice for a little child or something and then they realize, ‘wow, doesn’t really look like Winnie the Pooh.’ But their mothers are going, ‘no it’s fine, it’s fine, it’s really cute.’ So it’s not too bad. Yeah, it’s not bad, beats heavy lifting.”

Jim Cummings
Jim Cummings: Photo credit: Louise Manning Bishop / MomStart.com

I think it’s like audio comfort

Jim went on to answer the question of why he thinks Pooh’s voice gets such a reaction from people. He said that at almost any age you are, if you hear that voice it brings you right back to when you were five or so years old. It triggers a reminder in you of those happy childhood days. “I think it’s like audio comfort”, says Jim.

Jim was also asked if he had a favorite quote from Winnie the Pooh. To which he quipped, “Probably.” There are so many quote from over the years and he explains that there is such a thing as Pooh logic. “And it’s just so plain and it’s so right down there to earth. There’s a lot of maybe not Forrest Gump, but a little. There was a movie called Being There with Peter Sellars, long time ago. He didn’t know there was a hurricane going on around him because he was right there in the center and he was calm and serene. And he’s [Pooh] got that approach with things. It’s that sweet little logic.” I think the video below really shows that Pooh logic well.

I then got to ask another question and a follow up. I wanted to know how much influence Jim had over the lines he said as Pooh because he has voiced him for so long and because of that, did he ad lib and did his ad libs make it into the movie. I got much more than I expected in his answer and the geek boy inside of me smiled ear to hear when he named dropped Darkwing Duck and Hondo Ohnaka.

Jim said, “Yeah, I ad lib a lot. I know that that’s why they get me sometimes, like with Tigger and Pooh. Not so much as with them as with many of the other characters that I’ve done, Hondo Ohnaka from Star Wars and Darkwing is another. And Ray, Princess and the Frog, he was one of my favorites. I think for Princess and the Frog that’s probably the only movie I don’t think I said one thing they wrote. I sang the song right though! I did that part okay. I couldn’t change those lyrics. But, cause then Randy Newman says, ‘oh, no, no, no, you’re, you’re not getting a lyric credit on this.’ But, other than that, I guess I have input. I always do it as written, cause you know, you have too. You have to, okay fine, you know, but and then I do it the right way, no just kidding. But, if they like it, they like it, you know, the thing is it has to contribute to the story. So, as long as it contributes.”

Jim Cummings
Jim Cummings: Photo credit: Louise Manning Bishop / MomStart.com

This next part is actually a combination of two questions that people asked of Jim. The first was if he did a lot of impressions and imitations as a kid and what advice he would give a kid who wanted to do what he does.

I was very annoying. They just hated me.

Jim would do a number of impressions when he was younger. One that he did for us was his Aunt Grace.

He described her in this way, “God, rest her soul my Aunt Grace, for all the world, she just sounded like she was a boxer.
[Grace’s Voice] ‘You know, she had that sort of a voice,’
[Mother] no.
[Jim] but she does sound like that.
[Mother] I know, shut up, don’t say that. Yes, everybody knows what she sounds like.
[Jim] Yeah, but it’s really funny.
[Mother] Yeah, I know, shut up.”

He went on to say later that when you do different impressions of people they can become your new characters. If you do a perfect impression of a famous person that is great but if you do a perfect impression of someone that nobody knows then that can be your next character. Or if you do a terrible impression of a famous person then that can be a new characters. The inspiration and creation of new characters can come from so many unlikely places. On getting to where he is as a character actor he said that he never wanted to be the main character of a prince or something, he always wanted to be a troll or ogre living in a cave or a weasel or something.

Jim Cummings

Jim also said something that changed my whole perception of voice actors. “people say, ‘well, you do voices,’ and that’s true. But, we’re just character actors really that you don’t see. You know, it is a voice and I get the idea of saying voice actor, but really, it’s a character and that’s how they sound when they talk. So, I think there’s a mindset there that can be used.”

Jim Cummings
Jim Cummings: Photo credit: Louise Manning Bishop / MomStart.com

Jim became Winnie the Pooh after Hal Smith who had the role after the passing of Sterling Holloway, the original voice of Winnie the Pooh. The thing was, that voice was simply the voice of Sterling Holloway. That was the man’s real voice. Jim almost met Sterling Holloway once in a restaurant and much like me probably, he didn’t want to bother them man as he ate. I don’t know if he could have imagined then that he’s be Winnie the Pooh now.

Jim said, “We’re sitting there in a restaurant in this diner, in a motel, didn’t think anybody was there. The waitress walks over, ‘have we decided?’ And you hear this little voice, ‘I believe I will have the chowder. I got up and I was cool and I get some salt on the table over in the corner there and I look over there. And he sitting, god love him, and cute as he could be, I wanted to run up to him but what do you say? ‘You’re Winnie the Pooh man,’ I’d feel like an idiot. So, and I really wish I did, and now I’m Winnie the Pooh, man.”

Jim Cummings
Jim Cummings: Photo credit: Louise Manning Bishop / MomStart.com

In addition to the characters of Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, we asked which are Jim’s favorites. Jim really likes Darkwing Duck and Hondo Ohnaka but he also went on to say that he wanted to be in the movie The Princess and the Frog because of his daughter. His girl, Gracie was four when he made the movie and she looked just like the young Tiana. In Princess and the Frog he played Ray the cajun lightning bug.

He went on to tell us that when the movie was being made he jokingly told Ron [Clements] and John [Musker] the directors of the movie, ‘if you don’t let me in this movie, I’m gonna sue ya, cause that’s my kid right there. That’s, little baby Tiana looks just like Gracie.’. He then proceeded to take out his phone and show us photos of his daughter. He also told this story. “She dressed as Princess Tiana at the premiere and she got a pebble in her shoe. I said, ‘alright let me get that,’ and Anika Noni Rose goes, ‘get out of here, we princesses have to stick together, come here baby. And I went, ‘oh, yeah, somebody get a picture.'”


Who was your favorite Hundred Acre Wood Character as a Child, Has that Changed?

Jim explained that when he was a child he was in the audience of the first three Winnie the Pooh movies and then Pooh went away until the late eighties. However He liked Tigger and Eeyore. He then gave an impression of Pooh playing Monopoly. In Pooh’s voice “Oh I believe I will buy Park Place”. I can only imagine who much fun it is to hang out with Jim on a regular basis as different characters slip in and out. He said that every now and then someone will say to him, There was a little Tigger in what you just said.

Winnie the Pooh

On the Legacy of Winnie the Pooh.

When asked about how the legacy of Winnie the Pooh has evolved over time he was very complimentary of the direction that this movie was taking. “We had some scares there over the years. Those didn’t quite fly. This is such a new reimaging that I’m really excited. I came from the 2-D world, standard animation and that was beautiful. A couple of projects were better than others. But, overall, I think just staying true to the characters and true to the feeling is the way to go. And we’re right back there to square one with this and I just think it’s brilliant. What if Christopher Robin grew up, got in trouble, turned into a humdrum work a day drone, like everybody else.”

Then Jim agreed to take a photo with is and through it he did talk like Tigger and Pooh to bring out those wide beaming smiles.

Jim Cummings with the bloggers
Jim Cummings: Photo credit: Louise Manning Bishop / MomStart.com

Please take the time to visit my fellow bloggers and see what they have to say about Christopher Robin.

You can follow everyone on Twitter on my #ChristopherRobinEvent Twitter List.

You can view the adorable trailer below.


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