“A lot of the early animators had no art education to speak of. There were all sorts of crude tricks like drawing around dollars and quarters for Mickey’s ears”
build your story. You can end up someplace totally different by the end of the process. We worked on Kingdom of the Sun for years as a serious picture and it became The Emperor’s New Groove. But that’s how you manage little breakthroughs like the talking clock in Beauty and the Beast. Once that little guy was right, the movie was right.”
Mattinson was born in San Francisco and raised on the Disney lot. His presence on these stately acres is, nonetheless, a sort of homecoming. Down past the sprawling lawns we find the birthplace of the animator’s longest-serving on-screen cartoon collaborator. Never mind the snooty sheep. Buckhurst’s Ashdown Forest boasts an extraordinary literary lineage. More than 70 years ago this particular stretch of woodland inspired local author AA Milne to pen Winniethe-Pooh. Nearby signposts indicate our proximity to Poohsticks Bridge, Galleon’s Lap, Roo’s Sandpit, the North Pole and the Hundred Acre Wood.
“I worked on the first Winnie picture,” says Mattinson. “And it almost didn’t happen. Walt had had the rights to the property for a while, but it was on the back-burner. We had some downtime after One Hundred and One Dalmatians and went to work on it. But we had only got as far as the Honey Tree and the Blustery Day sections when Walt decided it would work better as 20-minute featurettes. He didn’t think it was funny enough to justify a whole movie.” Mattinson admits he is still a little surprised that Disney’s silliest bear is currently the biggestselling baby brand on the planet. Market forces, however, have always been integral to Pooh’s progress.
“The second short won the Academy Award, so there was suddenly a little bit of interest. Then Seers picked up on it and put it on the front of their catalogues for Christmas. That was that. You couldn’t get one of those catalogues anywhere in the country. Pooh’s success surprised everybody, not least Walt himself. He didn’t think there’d be that much excitement about the characters. Even Walt wasn’t infallible about these things.”
More than half a century after Mattinson first signed up at the studio, he’s back on Pooh detail. His contributions to the brand spanking new Winnie the Pooh were, he says, much like his contributions to older versions.
“The old Disney featurettes were always true to Milne and the original illustrations by Ernest Shepard, and nothing’s changed. We have to talk about 3D now on different projects, but not on this one. It’s a new movie but it’s the old Pooh and it’s straight from the book. “These characters are so innocent. They’re a dear little family in an enchanted forest. We have to protect them from hurtful jokes and the modern world at all costs.”