LOS ANGELES/BEIJING: China has denied screening permission to Walt Disney Co.’s “Christopher Robin,” featuring the honey-loving Winnie the Pooh, a source familiar with the matter said Tuesday. It is unclear why the Chinese government denied permission, the source said, and Chinese authorities do not provide reasons to Hollywood studios when they disallow screening of their movies. Censors have in the past targeted the film’s main character, originally conceptualized by English author A.A. Milne, due to memes comparing the bumbling bear to President Xi Jinping.
China’s Culture Ministry declined to comment, referring questions to the State Administration of Radio and Television, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The world’s second-largest film market, China limits the number of foreign titles allowed into the country to 34 a year. It typically favors action-heavy blockbusters such as “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Black Panther.” Disney’s “A Wrinkle in Time” has not been released.
Netizens have in the past likened Pooh’s portly stature to that of Xi.
A few have used Pooh as a symbol of resistance.
Popular memes compare images of Xi and former U.S. President Barack Obama walking side by side to similar cartoon scenes including Pooh and his taller, leaner friend Tigger, a hyperactive tiger. Other allusions include a popular comparison between a Winnie the Pooh car toy image and the Chinese leader presiding over a military parade from the back of a moving vehicle.
“Can I still say Winnie the Pooh?” several users posted Tuesday on Weibo, a Chinese microblogging site, testing censors by adding images of Xi and Pooh. The images on the site, seen by Reuters Tuesday, had been blanked out by Wednesday.
“If they don’t let it into China, the joke is going to become huge,” another commenter said.
While China’s film regulator does not give direct feedback on specific movies, it has released regulations in the past that say it bars subversive themes, homosexual content and excessive violence. In March, the Beijing International Film Festival pulled award-winning gay romance “Call Me By Your Name” from its program, not long after the country’s film regulator deemed LGBT content inappropriate, alongside content that includes bestiality.
In “Christopher Robin,” the eponymous hero has grown to adulthood and reunites with boyhood friend Pooh and others such as Eeyore the donkey and Piglet.
“It doesn’t really matter what they do,” one anonymous Weibo user said, “It’s the internet, I can just pirate it anyway.”