While audiences are busy freaking out this weekend over the finale of the ‘Harry Potter’ saga, there’s another children’s book series that’s also arriving on the big screen: ‘Winnie the Pooh.’ Pooh, Tigger and the cast of animals that inhabit the Hundred Acre Wood go on another series of adventures with Christopher Robin, in new adaptations of the original A.A. Milne classics.
For their latest animated feature, Disney added a contemporary spin to their classic approach. One of the unique elements involved with the new ‘Winnie the Pooh’ is the music of Zooey Deschanel. The actress best known for movies like ‘Elf’ and ‘(500) Days of Summer’ splits her time between Hollywood and working with singer/songwriter M. Ward in the indie folk group, ‘She & Him.’
Moviefone spoke with Deschanel about joining the pantheon of classic Disney soundtracks, the new sounds she brings to kids’ movies and the legacy of her shower duet with Will Ferrell.
Moviefone: Now you’re joined by your regular collaborator M. Ward on the ‘Pooh’ soundtrack, so is this an official ‘She & Him’ project?
Zooey Deschanel: They asked me first, and they asked me “who do you want to produce it, and I said ‘M.Ward.’” — cause that’s who I like to work with. So it’s not officially a She & Him project, but it is because it is the two of us.
When did you first discover the ‘Winnie the Pooh’ cartoons?
It’s like ‘The Wizard of Oz’; it’s embedded in my brain as part of who I am. It’s so early on, it’s hard to even remember the first time you see ‘Winnie the Pooh.’ It’s really great to see it done with so much reverence, and I love that it’s hand-drawn animation. It’s a new story, but it has all the charm of the ‘Winnie the Pooh’ I remember.
Your music is not the kind of music you typically hear with modern kids’ movies. How did you prepare to bring your sound to an entirely new audience of children?
The song we did for the beginning was the classic Sherman Brothers song, and that’s just an amazing song to do. And then when they asked me to write the end credits song, I thought about my favorite kids’ records. I looked to Carole King’s ‘Really Rosie,’ Harry Nilsson’s ‘The Point’ and ‘Free to Be You and Me.’ When I wrote the song, I thought about how ‘The Point’ is a kids’ record, but I still listen to it all the time. It’s one of my favorite records. I had that in mind where I wanted to write something that felt classic, but not dated. There’s something comforting about a song that’s structured in a classical way.
We look to more classic stuff as our influence, and we record in a very old-school way. But I think what makes it slightly different is that I do tons and tons of vocals and Matt [Ward] does tons and tons of guitar overdubs, so that makes it a unique sound, I think. I write pop songs. They’re straight-up pop songs; they’re not lyrically similar to anything that is happening now.
If She & Him were to do a covers album of classic Disney songs, what would you like to record?
There’s so many great ones. All the Sherman Brothers; I bought their whole catalog of music for this project. All the songs from ‘Mary Poppins’ are amazing. I love the music from ‘Sleeping Beauty’; it’s Tchaikovsky-based, but done in such a clever way. Oh and ‘The Jungle Book’ and Peggy Lee’s music for ‘Lady and the Tramp.’
With Disney films there is such an incredible tradition of music, and it’s really amazing to look back on it and be like “Wow, I get to be a part of this!”
Another memorable movie-music highlight from your career is your ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ duet with Will Ferrell in ‘Elf.’ That scene, and that movie have become modern classics. Why do you think it sparked with viewers so much?
I was so lucky to be a part of that film and Jon Favreau had this idea that whoever played my part would have something that they were good at, that they were hiding; at the time I was doing a cabaret act singing standards. When they cast me, he was like “well, we’ll have her song and that will be the thing she’s afraid to do.”
Will is so unbelievable in that film, and that scene is so sweet in the context of the film, cause he’s so sweet and innocent and purely good. I knew when I read that script that it would be hilarious and when I saw Will doing the part that I knew it would be great, but I had a thought in the back of my mind that it would be a Christmas classic. It’s one of those things where you have an inkling and then it happens and it’s weird to have been there. Then later, it’s something people play every Christmas. I’m extremely fortunate to be in that place, at that time.
You’re also involved in a new online comedy site: HelloGiggles.com. What’s your goal with that project?
It started as “we want to create a comedy site for females” but it’s evolved; when you do something creative, it takes on its own life and its own identity. The people who read it and the people who contribute become X-factors that you didn’t factor in when you were creating it.
It’s a destination for women; it’s both light-hearted, but also deals with serious topics. We’re interested in people’s stories and creating a community of creative people who are positive and supportive. It’s meant to be the ultimate destination for smart, cool, creative females. But we also have a lot of male fans too (laughs).
(Photos courtesy of Walt Disney Studios.)
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