"Winnie the Pooh" opens July 15.
Who would've guessed that the key to a great voiceover performance would be the word, "Chowder"?
Pronounced "chooow-dah" and enounced with a twinge of nasal rumble, Jim Cummings, who provides the voice of Winnie the Pooh and Tigger in Disney's magical new reboot of the Pooh franchise, used those two syllables as his lynchpin for getting into character as the loveable bear with a serious honey habit.
Tom Kenny, who's best known as the voice of Spongebob Squarepants and brings Rabbit to life in Disney's new film, says that voice actors have dozens of characters who exist in their minds and vocal chords, so they need a touchstone to ignite each recording session.
"You say it and you're ready to go," Kenny explains.
For Cummings to portray the bear of "little brain," he first needed to sink into the line, "Mmmm…I'll have the chowder," before he was ready to spend the day as Winnie. As arbitrary as it may sound, Cummings reveals, "I overheard Sterling Holloway [the voice of Pooh from 1966-1977] ordering it in a restaurant once," he says with a smile.
Since then, it's been the actors' fail-safe avenue into the character.
Based on A. A. Milne's delightful children's book series, the newest "Winnie the Pooh" film, opening July 15, is the first full-length movie from the Hundred Acre Wood in six years, and takes a merciful step away from the parade of celebrity voices Disney has implemented since Robin Williams' turn as the Genie in "Aladdin," (John Cleese, who serves as the narrator, is the only prominently recognizable voice). Rather than play the "which famous person am I listening to now" game, you get to sink into a story that will win over audiences of all ages. It also features watercolor and hand-drawn animation rather than something cold and computer generated, a kind, gentle, touching plot that clocks in a woefully brief 68 minutes, and a charming soundtrack featuring music from Zooey Deschanel and the writing team behind such Broadway hits as The Book of Mormon and Avenue Q, Bobby Lopez and his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez, both on their best G-rated behavior.