Jim Cummings: 

Winnie The Pooh & Tigger Too!

 

If you don’t recognize Jim Cummings, you haven’t been listening.

 

This accomplished actor is the voice of literally hundreds of your favorite animated characters. That includes the immortal Winnie the Pooh. And Tigger too. And Darkwing Duck. And the Tasmanian Devil. And the Marvel villain, the Kingpin. And the Star Wars Pirate, Hondo Ohnaka. And Mickey Mouse’s ageless nemesis, Pete. And...well, you get the idea.

 

Fact is, Jim Cummings is everywhere—on TV, in movies, in video games, and even at the Denver Comic Con where the guy with the whirlwind voice performed at the Kids’ Corral, delighting children of all ages with his spot-on impressions of their hand-drawn characters. (Donut-Guy, anyone?)

 

Thankfully, Jim took some time his Donut-Guy performance to fill us in on the secrets of his incredible voice, his Disney career, and much, much more. Care to listen in?

 

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PopFam

Wow, it’s Winnie the Pooh and Tigger in the flesh! Thanks for taking time to talk with PopFam readers. To start off, would you tell us “The Jim Cummings Story”—how a kid from Ohio grew up to be a beloved Disney voice, singer, and storyteller? And to what do you attribute your success?

 

Jim Cummings

Well the answer to that is…um…I’ve just always been crazy about Disney in general. I was a member of the Mickey Mouse Club at the age of four. I’ve just always been a Disney kid, and now I’m a Disney human, man, whatever I am now.

 

You know, I’ve always thought that Disney was basically a part of America. It’s Americana. And I always wanted to be somehow involved with the studio. If only I’d gotten to meet Walt, that would have been a wonderful thing. I did meet Roy Disney! But, gosh, what do I attribute my success to? I don’t know. Hard work and a love of the craft.

 

I can tell you this: I treat every day like it’s the Super Bowl, every session, because they last forever, these Disney films. I mean, Snow White was done in 1939, yet it still is vibrant today. It comes out every now and then for its anniversary. So I just want to do as good a job as I can EVERY time. I think that that would contribute to the success of the whole thing in general.

 

PF

In what ways did your parents encourage your creative growth?

 

JC

Well, I was always in plays as a kid, and I always took music lessons. My Aunt Nan, bless her heart, she paid for my drum lessons. My dad would drive me across town after a long day of work to the Youngstown Playhouse—I was born in Youngstown, Ohio—because I was always in plays and I always wanted to be the wizard or the werewolf or, you know, just the most fun part that I could get.

 

And my parents encouraged it! They were proud of it.

 

I was, of all things, a spelling champ, from like fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth grade. It was a kick for my dad because they would put the pictures of the kids in the newspapers and apparently I would show up every now and then in his company newsletter. So that helped with bragging rights with Dad at work. And my mom was always there. She would always encourage me to do my best and follow my dreams.

 

I’ve even said before—to this day I tell my nieces, kids, nephews, and maybe someday grandkids—I say, when it comes to encouraging creative growth, well, how about this: Make a list of things that you love to do so much that you would do them all day long for free. And then, do them, or at least one of them, so well that someone will pay you. And guess what? You are now a success in your career.

 

That’s the one road that I know toward career success. And my folks were right there for that every step of the way. All my family were. So I’ll take that.

 

PF

Please tell us about your work as (bad guy!) Pete on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. What’s been memorable for you while working on this fun show?

 

JC

It’s funny. I’ve been Pete for a good long while, and I always like to point out that I’m pretty sure Pete is tied for first place as oldest Disney character because he was in Steamboat Willie. So there you have it.

 

What’s memorable? I can tell you this, working on the show is great because I’ve got little ones and they love it, and everybody’s little ones love it, which we love! But it was funny because even though I had been Pete for any number of years, when we started up the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse the big concern was that Pete was too tough, that he was too much of a bad guy. And if you’ll notice, he no longer has his stubble. He certainly doesn’t have his cigar, nor does he have the occasional peg leg that he had, nor the eye patch that he’s had down through the years.

 

In fact the main challenge was making sure that Pete wasn’t too scary with “dat crazy basso profondo.” So we actually had to tone Pete down. I jokingly refer to him as “Pete Light” for the little ones. I can tell you that it’s just an absolute ball being Pete. I hope he’s cranky forever.

 

PF

A show like Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is very much a collaborative venture. What’s best, and what’s hardest, about working in this kind of creative team environment?

 

JC

The best thing is that we put out shows that everybody loved and, knock on wood, will last forever. We know it’s not a sure-fire thing. Having little ones of my own, I think the fact that it was so musical was always a huge plus when it comes to creativity and everything ... I like that because it also ups the entertainment value.

 

Like I say, having kids myself, I know that they respond very much to the musical aspects of the show. They’ll get up and march around the room! It’s a fun thing to see. It’s all the best; there’s really nothing that’s hardest about working in that kind of creative team environment. I’m happy to say I don’t have any hard part to tell you about. [Laughs.] I guess if you got a sore throat, that would count. But that’s not part of the deal!

 

PF

Some of our readers have creative children who want to grow up and become the next great voice of Winnie the Pooh, or the next great Disney animator, or the next great “whatever.” What are the “top three tips” you’d give to those parents? And what advice do you have for their kids?

 

JC

Gosh! To condense it I would have to say: Patience, love, and encouragement.

 

You know, it’s very easy for a child—when they’re learning an instrument, they’re learning to sing, they’re learning to tap, they’re learning to write, or fill in the blank—it’s easy for a child to get frustrated. But if mom and dad are there telling them they can do it and bolstering them up, then that’s going to be a boost that’ll pay off. Love and patience and encouragement. I can remember actually getting mad at my parents and going, “Yeah, OK, fine. It’s time for me to practice the drums. For seven hours straight!” And that’s where the patience is going to come in.

 

What advice do I have for the kids? Well, you know what? Be yourself. It was kind of encapsulated in the statement about doing things that you know you love and that you would do all day long for free. Don’t be afraid. I always knew that I would be somewhere in the business. I always wanted to sing for my living, to play drums for a living, to paint pictures for a living, to be an actor for a living, all the way kind of across the artistic board there. Not necessarily dance. Nobody’s going to buy that. I’m in no danger of doing ballet anytime soon. My advice is just full speed ahead and follow those dreams.

 

PF

If you and I were sitting around a barbecue, enjoying burgers and brats and solving the problems of the universe, what would you say is the most important thing in life—and how does that show up in your work?

 

JC

Well that’s just love and family. How does that show up in my work? Well, I’ve said before, these films, especially animation, last forever. Do something they can be proud of. Do something that your kids will say, “Oh gosh, that was my dad!” Or God willing, “That was my grandpa!” “That was my great-grandpa!” I try to live my life and guide my career in a way that satisfies me today and allows me to know that I can look back with pride on it in the future. You’re just being kind to yourself and your future self. Love and family, I mean, what else can I say?

 

PF

What’s left for Jim Cummings to do? Any big dreams still on your “bucket list”?

 

JC

Yeah, I want to be in a Pixar film, dang it! And book a series regular in a prime-time animated show. How’s that? There are a few more in there, but those are a bit more personal in nature.

 

Thanks folks, and you know what? God bless America. And everybody else too. Bye!

 

--MN

 

All product-related graphics in this article are standard publicity/promotional shots and are owned by their respective publisher. Jim Cummings photo: www.photocitylabs.com 818-760-4646. Reprinted by permission. §§§ Winnie The Pooh Art © Disney. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission. §§§ Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Art © Disney Junior. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission.

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Jim Cummings IS Winnie the Pooh, and Tigger, and Pete, and...you get the idea!

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