Most of the world will get to see the depressing adventures of a grown-up Christopher Robin in Disney’s Christopher Robin live-action movie this month, but China won’t—because the country’s film authorities have just denied the film a release, with rumors swirling about an old meme as the possible reason.
Since the ‘90s, China has had a quota for the amount of foreign films that are given official releases in the country. Although the amount and scope of films accepted has broadened considerably since the earliest forms of the quota (just 10 foreign films were allowed when it was first introduced in 1994), not every major Western release makes it over to the country. Christopher Robin is the latest film to be denied a release—Disney’s second this year, after A Wrinkle in Time—but the Hollywood Reporter alleges that the decision to deny Pooh and friends a trip to the lucrative Chinese box office might have more to do with the silly old bear himself rather than China’s usual restrictions on foreign films. Deadline writes, “Disney’s distribution chief Cathleen Taff, who is Executive Vice President of Theatrical Distribution, Franchise Management and Business & Audience Insights at the Hollywood studio confirmed the ban, according to the Associated Press.”
In recent years, the Chinese government has cracked down on the sharing of Winnie the Pooh pictures on Chinese social media platforms—among other things—after the honey-loving bear became a meme comparison for the country’s President, Xi Jinping. The meme started floating around in 2013, but crackdowns on Pooh’s likeness allegedly ramped up last year—just a few months ago, Chinese authorities blocked HBO broadcasts in the country after Last Week Tonight included a segment joking about the Pooh comparisons to Xi. Host John Oliver said in the segment, “Apparently, Xi Jingping is very sensitive about his perceived resemblance to Winnie the Pooh.”
Given that Pooh obviously plays a rather large role in Christopher Robin, maybe the alleged crackdown on the poor bear did play a role in the film’s lack of a release. But we don’t know for sure—THR only had one anonymous source for the claims and also notes that China’s typical restrictions on the number of foreign films being released could just as likely be the reason, rather than any acrimony about Pooh in relation to Xi Jinping.
We’ve reached out to Disney for a comment on China’s refusal to release Christopher Robin, and we’ll update this post if we hear more.
This post has been updated with Disney’s confirmation of the ban to the Associated Press via Deadline.