A new film inspired by AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh books has reportedly been denied a cinema release in China, where the cuddly bear is seen as a symbol of political dissent.

Since last year, references to the character have been banned on the Chinese social media site Weibo, after a spate of posts comparing the “bear of very little brain” to the country’s president Xi Jinping.

No reason has been given for the decision to block Disney’s new film Christopher Robin, reported in The Hollywood Reporter, but it is believed to be part of a nationwide clampdown on references to the beloved children’s character.

In 2015, a picture showing Xi in a motorcade alongside an image of a Winnie-the-Pooh in a toy car was called “China’s most censored photo” by political analysis company Global Risk Insights.

Other political figures have also been drawn in to the joke. When Xi met Barack Obama, the former US president was compared to Tigger the tiger on social media, while the Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe was drawn as Eeyore the donkey.

After HBO’s satirical news show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver poked fun at Xi’s sensitivity to Winnie-the-Pooh jokes in June, the US channel’s website was blocked by Chinese censors.

The new film stars Ewan McGregor as a middle-aged Christopher Robin, whose mundane life is interrupted when he is unexpectedly reunited with Pooh, Tigger, Piglet and the other talking animals of the Hundred Acre Wood. It opens in the UAE on August 16.

Missing a Chinese release could have a big impact on the film’s financial success, as the country represents an ever-growing share of the global box office. In the first quarter of 2018, China’s total ticket sales came to an estimated $3.17 billion, overtaking North America’s gross of $2.85 billion for the same period. Disney declined to comment.

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