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Winnie the Pooh vs. Paddington — who would win in a bear-off?

Apologies for the sacrilege

Graphic illustration with the letters WWWW vrs. in the center and images of Winnie the Pooh and Paddington the bear left and right Graphic: Alyssa Nassner/Polygon

Who comes to mind when you think of an adorable, accident-prone bear getting into hijinks with his human family? Paddington or Winnie the Pooh? Both are fictional bears of fine standing, who provide joy to children and parents alike. Or even just sad adults who need to see some good in the world. Then there’s clever wordplay and decision to wear tops without pants.

Pooh and Paddington have a surprising number of similarities. But if we had to pick one or the other — like, gun to the head because there can be no other reason you’d rank these two beautiful baby bears — how do you choose? The answer is obviously an incredibly well-researched, highly scientific set of Cute Bear criteria based on decades of study.

Dear readers, we’re going to have to make some hard choices today. And I promise I won’t be biased by the fact that for the last several weeks I’ve been listening to a podcast episode on repeat where a man named Otis Gray reads Winnie the Pooh to help me fall asleep.

Actually, public domain is a score for Pooh. Ten points for accessibility.

Current standing
Winnie the Pooh: 10 Points
Paddington: 0 Points

Original styling – 10 Points

Both of these bears have been around a long time – Pooh since 1926 and Paddington since 1958 – where did they start in their style journeys? Turns out: naked!

A.A. Milne created Pooh bear loosely based on a very generic bear his son – Christopher Robin, natch – carried around. The real bear itself? Boring. Blasé. Nothing special. The book version? Hero. Sweet. Perfect cherubic baby bear.

Winnie-the-Pooh (1926) illustration of Pooh
Winnie-the-Pooh (1926)
Illustration: E. H. Shepard/Public Domain

Paddington, back in 1958 in Michael Bond’s first original book for the character, actually looked much the same as he does today. Both bears hadn’t yet anthropomorphized to the point of needing clothing yet. Pooh hadn’t gotten his fire-engine red t-shirt, nor Paddington his iconic, deep blue pea coat. Padds had the hat, though. I think that means he wins.

First printing, A Bear Called Paddington (1958)
First printing, A Bear Called Paddington (1958)
Image: Michael Bond/Public Domain

Current standing
Winnie the Pooh: 10 points
Paddington: 10 points

Snacks – 10 Points

Though both bears prefer sticky, viscous treats that are prone to sloppy messes, this is no contest. Pooh wins this one. Marmalade is disgusting. I don’t care how cute Paddington is when he teaches the immensely gruff Brenden Gleeson how to make it in Paddington 2. It’s candied orange peels. And it takes over a day to make. There is no version of Paddington in which it looks good. 1970s stop animation? Gross. 2015 live action? Gross.

In 2011’s Winnie the Pooh, Pooh is so desperately hungry he starts to hallucinate honey everywhere he goes. So he sings about it in a track called, “Everything is Honey” and it’s a banger of a song, to be honest. But really, let’s point to the animation and how beautifully tasty this honey looks.

If that’s not enough proof – even unanimated, non-2-D, IRL, whatever you want to call it, actual honey is delicious. You can put it on biscuits! And in your tea! In addition to being something sweet-to-eat, honey has also been used to help heal wounds or cure a sore throat. Find me a marmalade that can do that. (Don’t find me a marmalade that can do that.)

I guess there is something to be said for the fact that Pooh is in the unfortunate position of having to steal his favorite snack from the bees, or invite himself over to Rabbit’s house, but I just call that ingenuity.

Current standing
Winnie the Pooh: 20 points
Paddington: 10 points

From book to screen, part 1 – 10 Points

Disney licensed the film rights to Winnie the Pooh in 1961, and a short five years later, Mr. Rumbly in his Tumbly made his animated debut in the 1966 featurette, Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree. The red shirt – though not a going-to-die red shirt – version of Pooh Bear was born.

Our screen introduction to the bear kicks off with Pooh doing his stoutness exercises… the goal of which is to get him in a better position to eat more food. And you know what? That’s the ideal world right there.

When I’m up, down, touch the ground, puts me in the mood…

Up, down, touch the ground, in the mood for (smacks lips) food

The cartoon goes on to show Pooh getting into a series of mishaps in order to replenish his empty honey pots. He falls out of a tree on his way to steal from the bees, borrows Christopher Robin’s balloon so he can fly up to the hive (spoiler alert: it doesn’t work out), and maybe the most famous mishap of all, getting stuck in his frenemy Rabbit’s doorway after eating all of Rabbit’s honey. This initial featurette gave us so many of Pooh’s iconic maxims:

  • “Think… think… think…
  • “Rumbly in my tumbly”
  • “I’m just a little black rain cloud”

And it wasn’t even a feature film.

Paddington’s first foray onto the silver screen (ok not quite so silver, he started on the British television channel BBC1) in 1976 was delightfully homemade and twee. Set against a line drawing and lightly painted version of London, Paddington is the only part of the series that is 3D as a tiny little, awkward bear (now in his pea coat and hat). Narrator Michael Hordern does an admirable job handling the voice work for every character; but having a single voice over actor means Paddington doesn’t have a particularly identifiable way of speaking.

The episodes are very close to Michael Bond’s original series, with the first one – adapted from chapter one of the first book — having the Browns find Paddington at the Paddington Station in London after he’s stowed away on a train. This show introduces Paddington quite quickly and effectively – he hails from Darkest Peru, his Aunt Lucy has moved to the Home for Retired Bears. We get her patented Hard Stare, courtesy of Paddington to a fleecing taxi driver, and even Paddington’s love of snacks and his ability to get into very messy trouble.

The series didn’t have quite the staying power or reach that Pooh’s animation provided — I know I watched it as a kid in the ‘80s on PBS, but it easily could have been a fever dream or a read aloud I was confusing with something else — but it’s a sweet little piece of Paddington’s history all the same. But for sheer recognizability and memorability, Pooh’s got this one in the bag.

Current standing
Winnie the Pooh: 30 points
Paddington: 10 points

Voices – 10 Points

Winnie the Pooh, despite a number of voice actors, has consistently sounded like a sweet, if befuddled, older next-door neighbor. His voice is like sitting in a cozy robe in front of the fire, drinking hot cocoa. It’s a reminder of childhood and all the joy that came along with it. “Oh Christopher Robin,” he says, or “Oh, bother” and you can hear it in your head.

Paddington’s been all over the map. Colin Firth was originally cast in the latest film series, before Ben Whishaw took over. Firth would have been much closer to Horndern’s narration in the original stop-motion animation series, though Ben Whishaw makes Paddington sound like the delightful young man who will pick up your groceries for you when you’re sick. An aside to ask, once again, for someone to release the full-length footage of Whishaw recording his part. I will watch all of it. And for that, Paddington wins. 10 points.

Current standing
Winnie the Pooh 30 Points
Paddington 20 Points

From book to screen, part 2 – 10 Points

Winnie the Pooh has dependably been part of the animated world — whether it’s featurettes or feature films or direct-to-video— since his debut in 1966. Paddington, on the other hand, has had starts and stops in his journey from the book to a moving bear.

But in the 2010s, both Pooh and Paddington had real-life makeovers.

In 2015, StudioCanal released Paddington’s reintroduction to the world in the shape of a CGI (occasionally animatronic) bear wreaking havoc and burrowing into the hearts of the Browns. It was a far cry from his humble TV beginnings, this bear had a full studio budget. The movie was received fairly well, it had drama, action, and humor. On Rotten Tomatoes, it has a 97% critics rating. The real master stroke here, however, is in its sequel. 2017’s Paddington 2 – whether by virtue of coming out at a time when people just really needed a movie about a funny, kind little bear, or because it really is an actual masterpiece – held onto a 100% critics rating for almost four years, when a single negative review dropped it to 99%. I’m inclined to believe the latter; the movie is very nearly perfect in every way. Paddington goes through love and loss, betrayal and reunion, all with the character’s trademark humor and joy. Hugh Grant is the perfect foil, and all the favorites from the first movie come back to somehow ingratiate themselves further into the viewer’s heart. A triumph!

But what does that mean for Winnie the Pooh who turned real-bear in Disney’s 2018 movie, Christopher Robin? First, there’s the look. Pooh is a “real bear” insofar as he is not two-dimensional. He’s still a walking stuffed animal, unlike Paddington, who is an actual new species of intelligent bear. And the movie itself is a much more somber look at the 100 Acre Wood crowd. It’s, essentially, about Christopher Robin’s loss of childhood innocence and his disconnection from his former self. He has to find it again with the help of Winnie the Pooh who has gone looking for him decades after Christopher Robin says goodbye. It’s definitely an emotional, adult-focused film in a way that Paddington isn’t — but that doesn’t mean there aren’t excellent Pooh-aphorisms. A-POOHrisms? I’m sorry.

Pooh aphorisms Image: Walt Disney Pictures

Because these versions are so different, and scratch such wildly different parts of the brain, I … truly can’t choose. It’s a tie.

Current standing
Winnie the Pooh: 35 Points
Paddington: 25 Points

Music – 10 Points

Look, Paddington 2 has a wonderful musical number at the end, complete with a Hugh Grant extravaganza.

But… Winnie the Pooh has 1977’s deeply bizarre and unsettling but catchy-as-hell “Heffalumps and Woozles”, he has the aforementioned “Up and Down” stoutness exercise song, the “I’m a Little Black Rain Cloud” … and while technically this is Tigger’s, “Tiggers are Wonderful Things” is a perfect song and we wouldn’t have it without Winnie the Pooh existing.

Pooh’s musical prowess is not just a result of nostalgia – 2011’s Winnie the Pooh movie had a brand-new song called, “The Backson”. The title is a result of Christopher Robin leaving a note that he would be ‘back soon.’ Pooh’s songs are a great look at how to musically deal with anxiety, I’m beginning to realize. A+ work all around.

Winner: Pooh Bear.

Current standing
Winnie the Pooh: 45 Points
Paddington: 25 Points

How much they can emotionally compromise your average, not-depressed adult, who I repeat is not depressed – 10 Points

In Paddington 2, Paddington’s goal is to find the perfect birthday gift for his Aunt Lucy. Unfortunately, through a series of misadventures he ends up in prison completely alone and under the impression that his family, the Browns, have forgotten him when they don’t show up for visiting hours. The bear’s assumption that he is completely alone is… truly devastating. Look at this face.

Sad Paddington in jail Image: Studio Canal

How could you want this face to be forgotten?

Sad Paddington in jail on bed Image: Studio Canal

Of course, then you have Winnie the Pooh in Christopher Robin. The premise is – by virtue of being about an adult who has forgotten what it means to be a child and to not be so focused on work that you miss the important things – inherently depressing for adults watching. The movie starts with Pooh waking up in the 100 Acre Wood, only to find that all his friends are missing.

Pooh: What has happened to my friends? Image: Walt Disney Pictures

He quickly finds Christopher Robin, now grown into an efficiency officer of a luggage company and grappling with having to let employees go, to come help. And then this happens.

Pooh: Did you let me go?
Christopher Robin: I suppose you did Images: Walt Disney Pictures

Eventually, Christopher Robin reunites the gang and rediscovers his spirit. It’s heart wrenching and warming. To be honest, Winnie the Pooh wins this category, mostly, because of this:

Christopher Robin: I’m not a hero, Pooh
Christopher Robin: I’m lost
Pooh: I found you
Pooh: Didn’t I? Images: Walt Disney Pictures

Final point tally

Winnie the Pooh: 55 Points
Paddington: 25 Points
Me: -1,000 points, for having to write this piece and choose between my two favorite bears.