Is Winnie the Pooh horror film banned in Hong Kong? Xi Jinping lookalike controversy and censorship explained

Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey will not be released in Hong Kong and Macau, purportedly due to ‘technical glitches’

Winnie-the-Pooh, a beloved children’s character created by A. A. Milne, entered the public domain last year, after being the property of Disney since the 1960s. It hasn’t taken long for producers to jump on the cute teddy bear, but not every Pooh production is as child-friendly.

Independent horror film, Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey, had a limited release this year, though it was noticeably absent from cinemas in certain parts of the world. The film features Winnie the Pooh, Piglet and their friends, anthropomorphic animals living in the Hundred Acre Wood.

When they are abandoned by their human friend Christopher Robin, who leaves for college, they kill and eat their friend Eeyore, an event which traumatises them and turns them against humanity.

Looking for a new source of food, Pooh and Piglet embark on a bloody rampage. Five years later, Christopher returns to the Hundred Acre Wood with his fiancée, Mary, and the pair discover that his old friends have turned feral. Christopher, Mary, and group of students staying at a cabin in the woods are caught in a desperate fight for survival as they are hunted by Pooh and Piglet. 

The film, made on a shoestring budget of $100,000, premiered in Mexico in January and had a limited release in the UK and US this month. It grossed more than $4 million at the box office - a strong return for a low-budget independent film, which was likely aided by the publicity surrounding the Xi Jinping controversy.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Winnie the PoohChinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Winnie the Pooh
Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Winnie the Pooh

Why is Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey banned in Hong Kong?

A Hong Kong release scheduled for this year was cancelled, officially due to technical glitches. A release in Macau, a special administrative region of China which, like Hong Kong, operates under the principle of one country, two systems, was also cancelled.

There has been widespread speculation that the film was banned because of an online trend of comparing the Winnie the Pooh character to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The 2018 Disney film Christopher Robin was banned by Chinese censors for this reason. China frequently censors of bans western films - a wave of Marvel films were denied release in the country from 2019 to 2021. Spider-Man: No Way Home was banned over scenes of the Statue of Liberty, which were deemed ‘too patriotic’.

Pooh Bear featured in South Park as a political prisoner in ChinaPooh Bear featured in South Park as a political prisoner in China
Pooh Bear featured in South Park as a political prisoner in China

Why is Winne the Pooh banned in China?

Some fans of the cuddly Pooh Bear noticed that the character looks a little bit like Chinese leader Xi Jinping, from certain angles. In an effort to suppress a slew of internet memes taking the mickey out of the untouchable leader, films featuring the character have been banned in the country.

However, this has created a Streisand Effect, actually spreading awareness of Xi’s Pooh-like profile. South Park featured Pooh as a Chinese political prisoner who was persecuted for his presidential resemblance.

Comedian John Oliver also made jokes about the lookalikes on his show Last Week Tonight. China responded to these slights by doubling down on censorship, they banned HBO, which carries Last Week Tonight, and South Park has also been banned in the country.

Pooh Bear’s Chinese name and other terms referencing the character have been banned on Chinese social media platform Weibo.

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