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Animated talent with voice actor Jim Cummings



Published: Thu, July 14, 2011 @ 12:09 a.m.

See also:‘Pooh’ craves sweet spot between the old and new

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Jim Cummings, center, hanging out with 'Winnie The Pooh' co-directors from left, Don Hall and Stephen J. Anderson.

‘WINNIE THE POOH’

Opens: Friday

Rating: G

Credits: Directed by Stephen J. Anderson, Don Hall; based on the novels of A.A. Milne; starring Jim Cummings (Winnie the Pooh, Tigger); Craig Ferguson (Owl); John Cleese (narrator); Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Kanga)

Length: 1:07 (including the short cartoon “The Ballad of Nessie”)

Movie

Winnie the Pooh

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With the charm, wit and whimsy of the original featurettes, this all-new movie reunites audiences with the philosophical "bear of very little brain" and friends Tigger, Rabbit, Piglet, Kanga, Roo-and last, but certainly not least, Eeyore, who has lost his tail. "Well a tail is either there or it isn't there," said Pooh. "And yours isn't… there." Owl sends the whole gang on a wild quest to save Christopher Robin from an imaginary culprit. It turns out to be a very busy day for a bear who simply set out to find some hunny.

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By GUY D’ASTOLFO

dastolfo@vindy.com

Talk about animated conversations.

A phone chat with Jim Cummings is like a conference call to cartoon land.

The Youngstown native has long supplied the voices for characters such as Darkwing Duck, Taz the Tasmanian Devil, Ray the Cajun Firefly from “The Princess and the Frog” and Featherstone the flamingo in “Gnomeo and Juliet.”

His greatest characters, however, would be Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, which he voiced on Disney’s “My Friends Tigger and Pooh” show.

Cummings reprises the characters in the animated film “Winnie the Pooh,” due in theaters Friday.

In a recent phone interview with The Vindicator, Cummings went in and out of his various characters, weaving them into the conversation. The Ursuline High graduate talked about the iconic stature of Pooh and Tigger, and how the new movie honors their history.

The screenplay was inspired by the original A.A. Milne books, he said.

“This film harkens back to the original [1966] ‘Pooh’ movie, when I was in the audience,” said Cummings. True to form, it features a narrator [John Cleese]. “It’s from A.A. Milne’s work, not quite the same story, but it’s got the same groove,” he said.

It requires chemistry between voice actors to lay down a conversation. But what about when one man is doing both parts, as Cummings does with Pooh and Tigger?

“I have chemistry with myself,” he said. The voice tracks for each character are done separately, so Cummings doesn’t have to literally talk to himself as two characters — not that he couldn’t.

He explained his system for becoming the drowsy bear or the bungling tiger.

“I read the lines beforehand,” he said. “That puts you into an ad-lib mode and gives it a boost. But you’re still alone in the booth. I’ve sung harmonies with people who weren’t there. The method to this madness is that they can get this and that take and mix and match them in post-production.”

Cummings said it’s better to do each character’s part of the conversation separately. “I want to separate them,” he said. “And in animation, you don’t overlap talking anyway.”

After Cummings and the other voice actors lay down their tracks, the serious work begins. That’s when the artists set the voices to animated visuals. “We have the easy part,” said Cummings. “We’ll go in and knock out an episode or two in an hour. But then they break out the Crayolas and watercolors. Some people think we lip-synch to a screen, but it’s the reverse. You can’t draw comedic timing. First you hear it, then you draw it.”

It’s been a busy year for Cummings, who also is voicing Taz the Tasmanian Devil in the updated Looney Tunes show that debuted in the spring on Cartoon Network.

“When it comes to animation, Bugs and the ‘Looney Tunes’ guys are the classics of all time at Warner Brothers,” said Cummings. “They’ll live forever. You can’t let something like that wither on the vine. It’s part of American culture, part of our collective memory.”

As for the furious Taz, well he isn’t exactly the most conversational of characters.

“Taz is unchangeable,” said Cummings. “He won’t be doing any Masterpiece Theater any time soon. If he found a statue of Shakespeare, I’m sure he’d find it quite tasty.”

Before “Looney Tunes,” Cummings was kept busy with “Gnomeo and Juliet,” the Elton John project. It was a tip of the cap to his abilities.

“I was flattered that [producer] Kelly Asbury remembered me [from ‘The Princess and the Frog’] and called me, because they wanted a known personality with a face, not an off-camera guy like myself. They tried to cast [Featherstone the flamingo] with certain people, like Jim Carrey and Steve Carell. But the clock was ticking.”

Cummings imbued the character with a Cuban flair, and it was an immediate hit. “I remembered ‘Miami Vice,’ and I did it like a Cuban. It gave it a special texture amidst all the British voices.”


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