NEW YORK – Over the years, the Hundred Acre Forest has seen some pretty disturbing situations. The shortage of jars of honey. Fairly windy days. The ever-present threat of an Ephalumpus.

On the other hand, in “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey,” a new low-budget R-rated horror film, Pooh delves into much darker territory than even Eeyore could ever imagine. After 95 years of him saying things like “A hug is always just the right size,” Pooh—just released from copyright—is now violently terrorizing a distant home of young women.

Many beloved characters have passed into the public domain in the past, but perhaps not as quickly and brutally as Pooh.

Pooh, Piglet, Kanga, Roo, Owl, Eeyore and Christopher Robin entered the public domain on January 1 of last year, when the copyright of the 1926 book by A.A. Milne, “Winnie-the-Pooh”, with illustrations by E.H. Shepard. Just a year later, Pooh and Piglet can be found in a bloody rage in cinemas nationwide – a meteoric development that happened faster than a bear can say “Oh, woe.”

Depending on your point of view, “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey” is both a gritty take on a beloved bear and a creative little stroke of independent cinema genius. Either way, it’s definitely a sign of what’s to come.

Over the next 10 years, some of popular culture’s most iconic characters – including Bugs Bunny, Batman and Superman – will enter the public domain, or at least their earliest incarnations. Some elements of Pooh are still off-limits, such as his red shirt, as they refer to later interpretations. Tigger, who debuted in 1928’s “The Return of the Pooh,” won’t go public until 2024.

On January 1, many people circled on the calendar. On that date, the original Mickey Mouse from the movie “Steamboat Willie” enters the public domain. It will be available to everyone from the Walt Disney Co., or at least that booing first pick Mickey.

Popular culture, as a concept, was born in the 1920s, which means that many of the most indelible – and still culturally relevant – works will enter the public domain in the coming years. There will be all kinds of new and unexpected contexts for some of these characters. Some will be great, some poor. However, “Winnie Pooh: Blood and Honey” may simply be a taste of what lies ahead.

“When Superman and Batman enter the public domain, there will be some crazy movies, I’m sure,” says Rhys Waterfield, writer, director and co-producer of “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey.” “There’s going to be so many new and interesting interpretations that could come of it. I’d do one.”

Despite being made for less than $100,000, “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey” will be released Friday in approximately 1,500 theaters in North America, an unusually wide distribution for such an underfunded film. It has already grossed $1 million in Mexico and has bookings in many other international areas. For Waterfield, British film producer of direct-to-DVD titles (including “Dinosaur Resort” and “Easter Killing”), the film is already a success well beyond expectations.

“I thought it was going to have little distribution somewhere and do a good commercial job,” Waterfield says. “But it exploded far beyond expectations, to a completely insane scale.”

In a 2021 ranking of media franchises compiled by Statista, Winnie the Pooh, with global revenues of $80.3 billion, ranked third alongside Mickey Mouse, surpassed only by Pokémon and Hello Kitty. But unlike the latter, Pooh represents a real cult figure for his kind-hearted aphorisms and positive spiritual vision of him. Pooh is as much a kind sage as he is a stocky and tender character. When Waterfield found out that Pooh was going to become public knowledge, “there was a spark in my eye,” he says.

This was a highly coveted intellectual property that could sell just about any movie. “I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t know who Winnie the Pooh is,” Waterfield said in a recent telephone interview from Amsterdam.

But certainly not everyone was so happy with the idea that one of the more benevolent bears could transform into a monstrous beast. Waterfield says he receives daily messages calling him evil, and even some death threats. One person in particular said he called the police.

“You have to be tough enough to make a film like this,” says Waterfield. “It surprises me. People think that creating an alternate version of him is somehow infiltrating their mind and destroying their memories. When they accuse me of ruining people’s childhoods, I’m really confused. I just ignore it and I keep making more.”

Waterfield is currently planning sequels featuring Peter Pan, Bambi, and several others. It is worth noting that the Felix Salten book “Bambi, A Life in the Woods” entered the public domain last year.

Jennifer Jenkins, the director of Duke’s Center for the Study of Public Domain and a law professor, is accustomed to dealing with complex copyright and intellectual property issues. She writes an annual column for “Public Domain Day” on January 1st. However, nothing has caused her phone to ring off the hook quite like “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey.”

The film has clearly struck a chord, with millions viewing its trailer online. (A typical comment reads: “I can’t believe this movie is real.”) Jenkins, a firm believer in the long-term benefits of public domain, has been somewhat amused by the uproar caused by a film like “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey.” She likens public domain issues to the way in which free speech is a right, regardless of whether or not one agrees with what is being said.

“Some uses of public domain material may be welcome to some and annoying to others,” Jenkins says. “However, I don’t think new content uniformly diminishes the value of the original work. I have the original books. I love them. The fact that this slasher film exists has no impact on how I view A.A. Milne’s original creation or E.H. Shepard’s pencil sketches.”

It is important to note that much of the Disney empire was built on public domain works. “Beauty and the Beast” comes from Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s 1756 version of the fairy tale. “Sleeping Beauty” originated from Charles Perrault’s 1697 fairy tale. “Aladdin” comes from the folk tale collection “The Book of One Thousand and One Nights.”

Although Jenkins cannot think of many characters who have had such jarring access to public domain as Pooh, movies like “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” (2016) and the 2021 book “The Great Gatsby Undead” are reference points.

“People love adding zombies to public domain works,” says Jenkins.

To her, “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey” may not be the best example of the effects of public domain, but it is part of a process on which human creativity depends and thrives. “Blood and Honey” may not make a lasting mark in the Hundred Acre Woods, but something will in the future. Consider it growing pains.

“The fact that some people may be disturbed or revolted by this particular reuse of one of the characters from Winnie the Pooh doesn’t detract from the value of the public domain,” says Jenkins. “This is how people throughout history have created. They’ve always drawn on or been inspired by earlier works. Time will tell with this movie or any other reuse of Winnie the Pooh and Piglet whether films like this will be successful in the market or have any enduring appeal.”

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