The film's plot is based primarily on two A. A. Milne stories of Winnie the Pooh: "In Which We are Introduced to Winnie-the-Pooh and Some Bees, and the Stories Begin" (Chapter I of Winnie-the-Pooh), and "In Which Pooh Goes Visiting and Gets Into a Tight Place" (Chapter II of Winnie-the-Pooh).
The storybook opens with an overweight teddy bear named Winnie the Pooh (also called "Pooh Bear") in the Hundred Acre Wood going through his morning stoutness exercises, during which he accidentally rips the stitching on his bottom. After repairing his torn rump, he discovers that his jar of honey is nearly empty and starts wondering where he can get honey as he eats what is left in the pot. He hears a bee fly by and tries to pull his head out of the jar, then decides to try to get honey from the bee's hive in the nearby honey tree.
He first tries climbing the tree, but that does not work when the branch he is standing on breaks, and he tumbles to the ground into a "gorse-bush". He then borrows a blue balloon from a human boy named Christopher Robin in an attempt to fool the bees and get the honey. Cleverly, Pooh disguises himself as a little black rain cloud by dunking himself with mud, and then uses the balloon to float up next to the hive. A lone bee guard flies out to meet him and is very wary of the little black rain cloud. Pooh sticks his hand into the hive and accidentally pulls out a giant handful of honey with bees on it, eating the honey, but spitting the bees out after a lengthy battle in his mouth. Among them is the queen bee, who is ticked off with Pooh Bear and kicks her away, making her fall into the same muddy spot in which he disguised himself.
Pooh is soon surrounded and attacked by angry bees from the hive, his disguise wearing off. After getting out of the mud puddle, the queen bee sees that the little black rain cloud is actually a bear, and shook the mud off of herself. Angry, the bee shoots up toward Pooh and stings his bottom as revenge for knocking her in the muddy spot. The sudden hit causes Pooh to swing upward and back, jamming his rear into the bottom of the hive. The head bee rests on a nearby branch and starts laughing heartily at Pooh's expense. The now nervous Pooh admits to Christopher Robin that these are the wrong sorts of bees, and is shoved out of the hole by the incensed insects who proceed to give chase.
During the pursuit, the string holding the balloon closed comes loose and the balloon flies out of control. Pooh is taken for a wild ride as the bees continue to chase him. The queen bee continues laughing but is now forced to take cover as her quarry whizzes by her twice. The chase is suddenly reversed as the bees are now chased by Pooh. The bees retreat into their hive and Christopher Robin's balloon deflates its last bit of air. The defeated bear inevitably falls back to earth and lands in the arms of Christopher Robin. The queen bee calls the others to attention with a buzzing "CHARGE!" and the swarm gives chase after the two who seek safety in the mud puddle. Pooh then confesses, "You never can tell with bees!" before spitting out one more bee.
Pooh visits Rabbit, hoping to finding honey there. Although Rabbit is aware of the bear's vast appetite, he welcomes him for lunch and gives him a small drop of honey. The honey, however, doesn't fill Pooh's stomach all the way, so he asks for more. Rabbit is hesitant but agrees, and so in a very gluttonous manner, Pooh devours every jar of honey in Rabbit's house. Pooh, his face covered with honey and all sticky, thanks Rabbit and eats leftover honey on his stomach, which is now extremely round and full. He tries to leave through Rabbit's front door, but has become extremely large from the vast amount of honey he has eaten — so fat that Pooh gets stuck in Rabbit's front door. Rabbit tries to free Pooh by pushing his oversized bottom, but it isn't any use, so he goes off to find Christopher Robin for help.
While he waits, Pooh is visited by Owl, who analyzes Pooh's peculiar situation and decides that the intervention of an expert is necessary. Gopher, an excavation expert, arrives and tries digging through Rabbit's front door over the blockage, but to no avail. He then offers to free Pooh using dynamite, but Owl angrily declines. Gopher turns to leave and falls into one of his holes, stating he’s on a tight schedule.
Christopher Robin, Rabbit, and Eeyore arrive and try to help Pooh but they cannot budge him one inch from all the honey. Christopher Robin suggests pushing him back in but Rabbit protests. So everyone comes to a solution; Pooh will have to stop eating and get thin again. Rabbit is forced to make the best of a bad situation, and devises various ways to disguise the bear's bottom as a hunting trophy, which turns out not to be a good idea (just as Rabbit is decorating Pooh's bottom as an antiques shelf, the painting part of which tickles the latter, Pooh sneezes from sniffing some honeysuckle Kanga and Roo gave him and ends up destroying Rabbit's "trophy").
One night, as Pooh sleeps, Gopher suddenly reappears, preparing to have his midnight snack when Pooh suggests that Gopher allow him to 'just taste' some of his honey. Gopher agrees to allow this, but soon Rabbit, fearing an extended period of Pooh being stuck, runs outside and stops Gopher, then posts a sign forbidding anyone to feed Pooh at all (Rabbit: "Don't Feed The Bear!"). Miffed by this ruling, Gopher decides to leave and falls into his hole again, stating again "that he’s not in the book, and ding-dang glad of it."
As the days go by, Pooh finally slims down enough to be freed, and Rabbit is delighted. Christopher Robin takes hold of Pooh's paws and starts pulling, Kanga then takes hold of the drum that Christopher was playing and hangs from a strap around his shoulder, then Eeyore takes hold of Kanga's tail, then Roo starts pulling Eeyore's tail, and finally Gopher takes hold of one of Roo's arms (and ends up falling into his hole once again when Eeyore's tail is accidentally pulled off too hard by both him and Roo). While the others are pulling on Pooh, Rabbit pushes from behind but the bear will not move.
Fed up with all this delay, Rabbit takes several steps backwards and charges into Pooh. Rabbit's push launches Pooh into the air towards the forest. (In a sight gag, Pooh almost flies out of the book, but is pushed back by the turn of a page at Gopher's harried insistence.) Pooh comes in for a landing in the hole of a similar honey tree, flushing out the same swirling swarm of bees that once fought Pooh. The gang runs after him and finds him stuck in the honey tree. Christopher Robin tells Pooh that they will help him get out again but Pooh tells them to take their time; the bees were scared away by his abrupt arrival giving the silly old bear a chance to enjoy a hive full of his favorite honey.
Production and reception
The project that would evolve into Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree initially started out as a feature film, but during a story meeting, Walt decided that the project would instead go on as a featurette (one that, if successful, could pave the way for a longer Pooh movie) because he felt the Winnie-the-Pooh books did not provide him nor his crew with strong source material for a full-length film. Instead of assigning people who were avowed fans of the books (namely Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston) to the project, Disney recruited people who either weren't very interested in them or hated them completely.
The scene where Rabbit deals with Pooh's being part of the "decor of his home" was not in the original book, but it was reportedly contemplated by Disney when he first read the book.
In the United Kingdom, the featurette was scheduled to be shown in front of the 1966 Royal Film Performance of Born Free, but British audiences were upset that Piglet, a major character in the original stories, was all but omitted, and Bruce Reitherman gave Christopher Robin an American accent.
Following the controversy, the only film print of Honey Tree in Britain was recalled back to Burbank and most of Reitherman's lines for Christopher Robin were redubbed by Jon Walmsley, who would also voice him in Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day and what would become the epilogue to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Walmsley gives Christopher Robin a mild British accent. When Honey Tree was made part of Many Adventures, Walmsley's lines were used.
- Sterling Holloway as Winnie the Pooh
- Bruce Reitherman as Christopher Robin
- Junius Matthews as Rabbit
- Ralph Wright as Eeyore
- Hal Smith as Owl
- Howard Morris as Gopher
- Clint Howard as Roo
- Barbara Luddy as Kanga
- Sebastian Cabot as The Narrator
- Piglet cameo appearance
- "Winnie the Pooh" by Sherman Brothers
- "Up, Down, Touch the Ground" by Sherman Brothers
- "Rumbly in My Tumbly" by Sherman Brothers
- "Little Black Rain Cloud" by Sherman Brothers
- "Mind Over Matter" by Sherman Brothers
- This film introduces the character of Gopher, who was not part of the original stories; hence his comment, "I am not in the book," said throughout the film (a pun on listed telephone numbers).
- Although Piglet does not appear in this film, he only shows up in the song "Winnie the Pooh", the opening sequence, and Christopher Robin's bedroom, and looks drastically different and appears in the book Winnie the Pooh Meets Gopher, which has the same plot. Also, in the same book, Piglet's jumper is green like in the stories.
- Although Tigger does not appear in this film, he is seen in Christopher Robin's bedroom to looking drastically different from his current design and he also appears in the opening sequence.
- Both Piglet and Tigger appear on the promotional posters for this featurette, although both of them are more closely modeled after their designs in the original E.H. Shephard illustrations.
- Since this was in theaters the same year Walt Disney had died, it is possible to be his last short he saw complete and released to the public, along with feature films The Happiest Millionaire and The Jungle Book.
- From an interview, it was learned that a scene in this film, where Rabbit makes Pooh's behind look like a moose, was one of Walt Disney's favorite scenes from one of his movies.
- This is the only appearance of the Winnie the Pooh song reprise, as The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh reused the closing instrumental music from Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day instead.
- In the film, there was a brief deleted scene where when Owl has a sandwich for Pooh, he tries to eat it, but Owl immediately snatches it from Pooh, much to his dismay.
- There is another deleted scene, heard only in the 1965 LP album, in which after Pooh gets stuck, Christopher Robin and the animals have a picnic, but resist to feed him, much to the bear's dismay. This was also seen in the 1965 storybook adaptation.
- Another brief deleted scene involves Kanga placing a warm shawl around Pooh, to keep him from getting cold at night Christopher Robin reading to him and Owl teaching him dangers and long words (though he is shown wearing it in the nighttime scene featured). This was also not only included in the aforementioned LP and storybook adaptations, but also the 1995 CD-ROM.
Most 80's and early 90's copies of this short used on home video releases (like the Mini Classics VHS series) uses a late 70's TV print with 3 small edits on the Pooh Coo Clock sequence, the scene where Pooh eats the honey covered with bees, and the scene when Rabbit yells "Honey?! Oh no!"
Home video releases
- Main article: Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (video)