There was a discussion recently in the Anime Superhero forums about the visible decline in Disney’s promotion of Winnie The Pooh in recent years, and some possible theories why. Increased competition from newer children’s IP was one guess, the ban on the character in China due to its use of mocking Xi Jinping was another. Some mentioned the underperformance of Pooh’s 2011 movie and others pointed out Disney owns things like Marvel and Star Wars now which generate more cash from pajamas than Pooh ever could. But one giant possible reason may have surfaced from the newswire: Pooh is about to become a public domain character.
AA Milne’s original Winnie The Pooh book was first published in the States in 1926. The copyright on this book, and the ideas and characters within, were set to last exactly 96 years. 2022 will mark that point. Once January 1 hits, you will be legally free to republish those stories, as well as create your own interpretation of Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger, Rabbit, Owl and Christopher Robin.
Granted, we’re skeptical this could be the REAL reason for Silly Old Bear’s hibernation. We’re talking about a conglomerate that was built on a foundation of adapting stories that were already public domain. Being PD is clearly not a hindrance to making a profit. In addition, this does not mean the storybook shorts from the 60s are now PD too. Disney will always own THEIR version of Winnie The Pooh, just like they own their versions of Snow White, Cinderella, Alice and Aladdin.
So if you’re thinking now of using the Hundred Acre Wood for the setting of your gritty crime novel, you might want to brush up on the original stories. The Disney version has become so iconic that you might easily mistake something that was introduced in that version for something from the books. Pooh’s red shirt, for example, is a Disney addition. He was nude in the books.
And if you haven’t read the Milne stories, you’re in for a good time. They hold up surprisingly well for “kids” books and are pretty darn hilarious. Check them out, and if you feel the urge, photocopy a few of the pages. Come January, that’s not piracy anymore!