Blood and Honey Director Discusses His Wicked Children’s Tale
Everyone’s favorite, honey-loving teddy bear is getting a dark twist in Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey. Based on A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard’s characters, the film sees Christopher Robin return to the Hundred Acre Wood with his fiancée after going to college, where he comes to the terrifying realization that Pooh and Piglet went feral and have become bloodthirsty killers due to his absence.
Starring Craig David Dowsett as Winnie the Pooh and Chris Cordell as Piglet, Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey came to life from debuting writer/director Rhys Frake-Waterfield after the eponymous character and his friend entered the public domain. The film quickly became a viral sensation in May 2022 after its announcement, with everyone divided on whether it’s a clever twist on the character, or the horror genre going too far.
In honor of the film’s theatrical release, Screen Rant spoke exclusively with writer and director Rhys Frake-Waterfield to discuss Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey, the positive side of its viral following, avoiding Disney copyright issues, sequel and spinoff plans, and more.
Rhys Frake-Waterfield on Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey
Screen Rant: Congrats on opening night and getting this film made, I’m very excited about the concept of this film alone, as a horror genre fan, it’s so intriguing to me. I know that you recently talked about the negative initial reception to the announcement of Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey, but what it was like hearing the excitement for this kind of idea?
Rhys Frake-Waterfield: Yeah, everyone normally focuses on the haters. It’s been really nice, there’s been two camps of people. It’s a bit like Marmite; you’ve got like the lovers and the haters. Fifty percent of people absolutely love it and are obsessed with it, and then I’ve got the haters. They’re the people who have messaged me on Instagram, but obviously, they’re not the people I’m making the film for. It’s really nice to see all the excitement we’re getting from people. We had the opening night yesterday, and it went really well, I think about midday or until about 6 p.m., we were No. 1 in the US box office, which is insane.
And in Mexico recently, it crossed over $1 million US dollars in just that one territory, so things are like going very strong with it. We’ve got a host of comments coming in from people all over Instagram, messaging myself, the producers, the cast, lots of people are just really, really into the film. It’s got a very kind of particular taste to it, but the people who like get the taste and they like the horror, they absolutely love it. Some people have been saying it’s one of their favorite films they’ve seen recently, or at least the last year, and it’s exactly what they wanted it to be.
For me, the tone, and how to direct this film was a little bit challenging, because there was a few directions I could take it. I think that’s where some people are kind of in different camps about it, because for me, I thought, “Okay, if you’ve got Winnie the Pooh killing people with a knife, it has to go down fun and silly, and just make it really enjoyable.” So it’s a film which works really well when you watch it with a crowd. Now, on the other hand, I could have gone down a much more serious route, and that route, I didn’t go down, because I thought the funner route is the better route.
But some people were like, they want a little bit more seriousness in it, so I’m just taking all of these comments on board now. We’re getting ready to start prepping the sequel, and yeah, I’m just really excited. There’s been so many good, positive reviews and good comments people have been making, which is really nice when you put so much time into something. The project has blown up to a scale way beyond what we initially thought it was.
It is pretty crazy to see how this became an overnight hit already. You mention finding the tone and Pooh killing people, but we have Piglet with him. I know you’ve talked before about trying to make sure you’re differentiating yourself from the Disney version of the characters. How did you go about picking who would join Pooh in these killings?
Rhys Frake-Waterfield: I kind of wanted the fan favorites to be in there. The second I think about Winnie the Pooh, the number one is Winnie the Pooh, and then second for me is always Piglet. He’s like his follower; I always viewed him as like a little minion who runs around with him. Then third, you start to go into the other characters, but it’s going to be Tigger; everyone likes Tigger, and then it drops into the others. I knew I had to be quite limiting, for budgetary reasons and also from the film perspective, so I didn’t want loads of villains going around as a pack of three or four.
I thought it’d be nicer to introduce them as two and just focus on those two, and then start to broaden and expand out after. Piglet and Pooh have a really interesting dynamic, which is why I picked him. Pooh, I kind of view him as like the alpha of the two; he’s the commander and the one who’s directing them where to go. Piglet is more of the grunt, the henchman; he’s doing Pooh’s bidding, so he’s just following his leader, basically. Visually, they’re also gonna probably have the more horrifying looks, and you’ve got the height dynamic, as well, so like with Pooh, I wanted him to be the biggest of the two. Then Piglet, I wanted him to be quite small, which is why I got a tall actor to play Winnie the Pooh, because I wanted him to be a bit more imposing, like tower over people, and give him a bit more of a horrifying sense.
Then, with Piglet, I wanted him to be a bit shorter and stockier, I didn’t go down the skinny route with Piglet, because I thought it might take away from him being intimidating if he’s got a smaller frame, so I thought, “Okay, I’ll make him a bit broader, and a bit more what I instinctively imagine as a boar.” When I think of a warthog, like Pumbaa, or something like that of Lion King, they’re a bit more stocky. So, okay, that’s the kind of route I’m gonna go down with him. But the other characters, they have some really interesting potential, and I’m getting quite excited now, because I’m looking to see when I can introduce some of them, I’m now kind of making those decisions about who should be there, what their characteristics are going to be like, and there’s so many different possibilities we can go down.
For example, I don’t know if Rabbit is going to be in the next one, but I imagine Rabbit to be very kind of short, and wired, so it’s like he’s done drugs, and he’s just scattered. He’s going all over the place, because Rabbits have so high energy, and they can just burst in running in quite fast movements. So, that’s kind of my initial view with him, and maybe having him really matted and stuff like that. But yeah, that’s basically what it was for picking Piglet. [Chuckles] They were just the two characters, which were the most popular and currently available to us, because Tigger, even though he potentially is kind of in line with Piglet in popularity, he’s not in the public domain at the moment. He’s still in the copyright of Disney, so I’m not allowed to introduce him into the story.
It sounds like a great idea for everybody else who wasn’t in this one. I noticed an eagle-eyed fan recently pointed out that there seemed to be Eeyore’s tail at one point in this film, I’m curious if that was indeed the case, as well as did you feature any other little nods to the other characters in this film without getting in trouble?
Rhys Frake-Waterfield: Yeah. Not with Tigger; I stayed completely clear of Tigger, because I didn’t want to have any gray areas in the film itself. But with the other ones, Eeyore gets eaten at the start. Sorry, I’ve just spoiled something for you. [Laughs] But it’s in the opening animation, and I think a lot of people are aware anyway.
But the reason I didn’t want him as a heavy feature throughout the movie, and as a heavy character, is because he’s really hard to pull off well, especially on a low budget. Because with a donkey, you can obviously do it with VFX, and that could look really rubbish, especially when the others are live action. It might not integrate well. Or I could give him like a bit of a donkey suit, and there’s two people in the donkey suit, and I thought, “Nah, that’d be rubbish as well.”
But he is the character I wanted to kill just for a bit of like crazy clickbaity, “What the f–k?”, and tell the opening of the story there. He’s also quite gloomy and glum, so I didn’t imagine him being that interesting to carry along into the sequels. I’m actually quite happy that he’s dead. [Laughs] There are moments in the film, there’s a few little Easter eggs scattered throughout there. So there’s one which I don’t think many people have seen yet, and it’s in one of the opening sketch animations when Christopher Robin gets dragged into a cave, in the top right corner, he gets dragged into the cave by Piglet, but there’s two characters who were just very small and subtle, but they’re in the corner, and they’re kind of just observing it happen.
They’re meant to be the other friends, and they’ve come back and they’ve come into the same area, because they’ve seen Christopher Robin’s come back. They’ve overheard the commotion and they’ve just watched what Pooh and Piglet are about to do to him. The other one is, yes, Eeyore’s tail. I thought it would just be crazy if there’s a scene where Pooh has to pick up a weapon, and there’s a load of different weapons available, and they’re all kind of pipes and wrenches and barbed wire, and then eventually, the one he picks up is his old friend’s tail off the wall, and he uses that like a whip.
I just thought it was a funny thing to introduce, so I hope some people who realize that do laugh at it and do just have fun, because that’s kind of what I wanted for this film. I don’t want it to just be dead serious, I wanted to have these fun, silly little moments in there just to make people smile.
I thought that was hysterical, that’s totally in line with what you want from this film. Did you have in the original script bigger ideas that you then had to kind of hone in for the budget that you had?
Rhys Frake-Waterfield: No, not really, it was actually the opposite. There was an initial script, which I had to pull away from, and I had to just rewrite, and the reason for that was because they hadn’t really thought about what is allowed and isn’t allowed, and they went a bit crazy, and they started introducing the game of Poohsticks, for example. I was aware that wasn’t in the public domain, so it’s like, “Okay, all of these elements were creating problems,” and I was like, “I can’t use this, I can’t use this,” and then eventually, “I’ll rewrite something, and I’ll just do my version of it.”
There are many other ideas I had, though, I’m always kind of like aware what the budget is when I’m writing and directing it, so I purposely boxed myself in. I’m sure I had thoughts when I was like, “This would have been amazing to do, like this big grand idea of helicopters flying in the sky and smashing and exploding, blah, blah.” But, obviously, you have to be realistic with what money you actually have, and then how it’s getting attributed on the project for the project to do as well as it can.
For me, having been already aware of it, I was being a little bit conservative in spaces and thinking — okay, for example, in this death scene, all I have is this one property, this one kind of Airbnb we’ve rented, so I thought, “I need to make a really interesting death scene happen,” and I thought what would be really crazy is, and I was thinking of all the items, which will be around to make sense. I thought, “Okay, what if a car, like, if I get Pooh in the car, and I can have Piglet hogtie her on the ground, then it will just make a really crazy dynamic scene that he’s holding her there while Pooh’s in the car driving to her and she’s screaming, and it will just make a really fun death scene, rather than just relying on Pooh running up to people just slashing on with a machete and then moving on to the next people.”
But those interesting deaths, and those really fun and quirky deaths, are what I really want to ramp up. I’m gonna have more money on the second film, at minimum I think five times the budget the first one was, and that opens up a lot more possibilities for me, in terms of what I can and can’t do and locations. So, I want everything to just go bigger, bigger and better.
What would you say then was one of the most challenging things to still have to pull off with this smaller budget?
Rhys Frake-Waterfield: I think it’s really hard to try and really stick to basically just directing the film. I know that sounds weird, but on the lower budget ones, you have to juggle so many hats, and on this, you can probably tell it in the credits, I was the writer, I was the producer of it, as well, so I was booking all the locations, I was doing everything beforehand. Up until day one of filming, I had organised the whole production including scheduling and accommodation plans, travel insurance, hiring vans, equipment, getting all the crew and the cast and all of these elements.
You create a bit of a storm in your head, because you’ve got so many different things going on. Not only have I got the vision of the film, which I’m trying to focus on, and what’s going to make these scenes really good, I’ve also got the producing side as well, where it’s like, “Okay, all the logistical issues and all the problems which happened on set” — and problems do happen on set — “they have to be running through my head.”
For example, a generator would break, this actually happened, a generator broke the day before, and the morning of, I’m like waking up in a panic trying to figure out where to get another generator, because of the shots we shot, it’s like, “If we don’t have a generator, we don’t have power, and then I can’t shoot the scene.” So it all kind of gets a bit of a storm in your head. What else was I doing, I was VFX supervising, so I was getting all of the necessary elements for that, I was the drone operator, I think I probably helped with SFX at some point there, too, just kind of getting muddled in with absolutely everything.
It’s kind of what you have to do on these low budgets, but yeah, that’s very challenging to do, because you need to be able to jump into a completely different mindset and then come back, and then just try and stick with the vision of the film. But yeah, it worked out, though.
Rhys Frake-Waterfield: I know on the second one, I’m just gonna direct. [Laughs] I already said I’m not gonna do the others. I’ll do some bits to figure out the locations and so on, but then I’m just going to be directing on the day.
There you go, create a little less stress for yourself. With The Den and Timur Bekmambetov’s Unfriended, you have helped launch a new subgenre of horror with this, as we saw in The Mean One, that sort of twisted childhood icons into horror. Between Winnie the Pooh and your upcoming Peter Pan and Bambi takes, what is that like ushering a new subgenre into the world?
Rhys Frake-Waterfield: It’s really exciting. It kind of exploded in May last year, and then after that explosion, I started seeing some other projects were moving as well. So yeah, you’ve got The Mean One got announced, and then that came out, and then I’ve recently seen Five Nights at Freddy’s has gone into production as well, and I kind of view that in a similar-ish kind of space. For me, it’s really exciting, because I’m a big horror fan, and I love the genre, I basically exclusively watch it. I get very kind of bored when I’m seeing a lot of the same thing over and over and over, in terms of franchises, in terms of the type of villains, like zombies or werewolves, ghosts.
I’m seeing a lot of it, and it got to a point where it’s just been getting a little bit dry, and for me, that’s kind of another reason why I’m getting drawn towards these crazy, weirder ideas, because I just want to make something a bit interesting and a bit different. I’m really hopeful that this is going to start to expand out, I want to make a kind of whole retelling universe, and it’s going to have loads of characters in there, like Bambi. I really want to do some other crazy ideas, like Teletubbies and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I think that’d be so fun to do. Now, they obviously have an IP, and they obviously are still in copyright, so it may be a bit of a struggle to do those two concepts.
But I want to try and find stuff like that, I want to find things which I could license, and I could do that are just crazy and wacky and weird, and they’re purely for people just to go and watch a horror movie and just have fun. I don’t want them to be too deep and too serious. I do like watching sort of grounded and elevated horror, but there is a big market for this. A lot of people do want this, they want to go there and just have fun. Some of the comments I’ve been getting from people yesterday who went to watch it, it was in their theater, they were all just kind of laughing together, and it was a very kind of communal watching atmosphere, which is really nice, because that’s kind of what I wanted it to be.
Overall, I’m just really hopeful that if this does really well, and it seems like it has done really well now, because we’re like day one or day two into it, that it’s going to help launch myself and many other people to start doing more concepts like this. I want to see more films like this coming out for for me and for them to watch, because I think there’s a lot of potential.
About Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey
Many years ago, a young Christopher Robin met a group of anthropomorphic creatures – Winnie The Pooh, Owl, Rabbit, Piglet, and Eeyore in the Hundred Acre Wood and became friends with them. He nurtured and fed them. Eventually, Christopher had to leave his friends to attend College – requiring his friends to fend for themselves once more. Then, during one particularly cold winter – the creatures on the brink of starvation decided to survive they had to consume one of their dearest friends – Eeyore. They then became feral and developed a hatred for all of humanity and in particular, Christopher Robin.
Five years later, Christopher Robin returns to the forest to reunite with his childhood friends and prove to his wife they are not imaginary. Then, we are introduced to a group of Friends – Maria, Jess, Alice, Zoe, and Lara. The group seeking a peaceful getaway from the Urban lifestyle, find a remote cabin in the woods and promise to disconnect from social media for the weekend.
As night falls, an infuriated Pooh and Piglet begin to hunt down any human they come across. Then, when a noise attracts them, they soon spot the group of girls in the cabin and decide they will be their next targets. Can the girls survive the onslaught from these anthropomorphic monsters and what happened to Christopher Robin?
More: All 3 Children’s Character Horror Movies Releasing After Winnie-The-PoohWinnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey is in select theaters until February 23.