Despite century’s worth of original works, one glaring omission remains in the Disney+ catalogue. The streaming service will never be complete until it adds the beloved live-action series about the denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood, Welcome to Pooh Corner. This series helped launch The Disney Channel almost 38 years ago, remaining a staple for young viewers well after it stopped filming.
Long before the internet and streaming services, Mickey Mouse fans turned to The Disney Channel. (Back when it still had its “the.”) The network debuted on April 18, 1983 as a premium cable station. It was Disney’s first wholly owned and operated channel. Since it required a paid subscription originally, it was devoid of commercials. All viewers got from 7 am until 11 pm was Disney programming without interruption. The station launched with a mix of older Disney offerings and original programming. Among those new shows was Welcome to Pooh Corner, a live-action series that combined performers in costume with puppetry and different voice actors, all filmed against a bluescreen.
All 30-minute episodes followed the same general format. They opened with the theme song, during which the characters were shown as small stuffed animals inside a brightly lit reading room. Mr. Narrator (played by Laurie Main) would read from a book about a new adventure that happened in the Hundred Acre Wood. The main segment, which lasted roughly 20 minutes, featured the characters playing out the story along with Main’s narration. Plots often taught simple lessons to its preschool-aged audience. Unlike in A.A. Milne’s books or Disney’s previous animated “Winnie the Pooh” shorts, Christopher Robin was not a character on the show. He was only even referenced once. The series was all about Winnie and his friends: Piglet, Rabbit, Tigger, Eeyore, Kanga, and her son Roo.
Performers in full-sized costumes brought each of the characters to life. (Roo started out as a puppet, but was ultimately played by a costumed actor.) Puppeteers controlled the character’s mouths and eyes, and an entirely separate cast provided the voices. Hal Smith voiced Winnie the Pooh, who was quite a bit smarter than previous versions of the lovable bear.
The show would then end with two short segments. The first was one of nine recurring songs. The second was an arts and crafts project performed by one of the characters. They would speak directly to Mr. Narrator during the segment, an approach that allowed for easier instructions for the young audience.
By the end of its run, Welcome to Pooh Corner had filmed 115 regular episodes and five holiday specials. It also produced some special programs, including the slightly bizarre musical Too Smart for Strangers. This special used songs to teach kids about avoiding kidnappers and sexual predators. The show spawned its own de facto spin-off with the live-action Dumbo’s Circus. That series employed the same technique of combining live-action with puppetry and voice actors, all filmed against a bluescreen to lower production costs.
Welcome to Pooh Corner aired its last original episode on June 9, 1986. But that was far from the end of its time on the station. Reruns aired on The Disney Channel until May 30, 1997, when the network made the move to basic cable everywhere. It’s hard to air a 30-minute, commercial-free show and keep a normal programming schedule.
For 14 years, the show invited young children to visit the Hundred Acre Wood with kindness and compassion. In the proper spirit of Winnie the Pooh, the series created a warm and welcoming place for everyone. You were wanted there whether you were full of pep like Tigger, or sometimes felt down like Eeyore. And it was a fun place to go—a magical land of singing and arts and crafts, where Owl flew like an airplane and Rabbit performed magic. The show made sure to entertain its young audience while teaching them.
It’s the first show I can remember watching from a time in my life when I have so few other memories. It was such a prevalent part of my childhood, the theme song still transports me back. Just hearing it conjures up all the same joyous feelings I got when an episode began. Welcome to Pooh Corner was my favorite show before I even knew how to say the word “favorite.” No wonder Winnie the Pooh has and always will be one of the characters I love most. And I know I’m not the only one. For 14 years, it did these things for so many other kids who still hold a special place in their hearts for it.
It wasn’t just an important show for The Disney Channel, it was an important show in the history of kid’s programming. And it deserves to be on Disney+, next to the other great works from the company’s catalogue.
So why isn’t it? We reached out to Disney+ to ask. Unfortunately they told us they don’t “comment on future title availability” outside of their newsletter. Thus, we’re left to theorize. Could it be a rights issue? The only other production company involved in the making of the show was Left Coast Television productions. This short-lived production company also helped produce Dumbo’s Circus, which is also absent from Disney+ (and, unlike, Pooh Corner, never got a VHS release). So could it then be an absence of master tapes? Or the fact that transferring the show to high-def could take years? Oh bother.
So long as Welcome to Pooh Corner is absent from Disney+, the library will be incomplete. The series helped launched The Disney Channel. It entertained and educated children long after it filmed its last adventure. It’s an important part of the company’s history. And it’s an important show to the many fans who grew up watching it. And yet, despite all that, the biggest reason to include it on Disney+ has nothing to do with its past. Future generations of kids deserve a chance to watch Welcome to Pooh Corner.
Featured Image: Disney