So, with live-action movies based on British children’s books being all the rage today, Disney threw their hat into the ring with “Christopher Robin.” Out of all the live-action remakes Disney plans to pump out, this one really peaked my interest. As someone who grew up with the A.A. Milne books and the 1977 movie “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh,” I was curious as to how such a character could be portrayed outside the realm of animation.
At the same time though, I was rather concerned, for normally live-action remakes are where childhood nostalgia often comes to die a horrible death. Such examples being “Cat in the Hat” or Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland.” However, with Movies like “Paddington” proving that it could be done rather well, I held out hope that this movie could bring the magic of Pooh bear to life. And for the most part, those hopes were realized.
This film was directed by Marc Forster and stars former Jedi master Ewan McGregor as the title character. The movie opens with a rather touching scene featuring Pooh and his friends throwing a going-away party for a young Christopher Robin, who is being shipped off to boarding school.
Christopher and Pooh (Jim Cummings) then share one final moment on the bridge where they drop sticks into the river and talk about doing nothing. This scene plays out very similarly to the ending of the original movie and perfectly captures the spirit of both the books and the 1977 movie.
We then are treated to a montage of Christopher’s life post the Hundred-Acre Woods, as he is forced to leave behind his childhood ways and enter the harsh reality of the real world. We see him fall in love with a woman named Evelyn (Hayley Atwell), get drafted to fight in a war, and come home to meet his three-year-old daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael).
Years pass, and Christopher slowly morphs into the workaholic father whom we’ve seen a million times in movies. The guy who’s obsessed with his work, finds little time for his family, is a bit grumpy, goes through some hijinks, and ultimately has a change of heart by the end of the film.
Yeah, I’ve seen this cliché a few times. It’s overdone, but it works ok for this story. He is rushing to reach a deadline for an upcoming meeting and is unable to accompany his family on holiday, driving a deeper wedge between them.
Meanwhile back in the Hundred-Acre Woods, Pooh wakes up to find that all of his friends are gone. While searching for them, he wanders into Christopher Robin’s old tree house. Through some Chronicles of Narnia logic, he walks out on the other side and finds himself in London. There he stumbles across the older Christopher Robin, who is home alone and busier than ever.
Despite being happy to see his childhood friend again, Christopher still puts his work above all and tries to take Pooh back home. From here the two go on a sort-of adventure to find their friends all while preparing for the big meeting.
One thing that really stands out in this picture is the visual style. The color-pallet is melancholy but still somewhat cheerful, kind of like the original A.A. Milne books. It manages to capture the whimsical feel of childhood storybooks, while adding a grim tint of reality to it.
The CG on Pooh and his friends look very convincing. I like how they didn’t try to make them look like realistic creatures like so many live-action Disney movies do, but rather they designed them like older stuffed animals. This way characters like Eeyore look much more accurate than if he was designed to look like an actual donkey.
I also like how this explores what Christopher Robin’s life could have been like when he finally grew up, how all the color has been sucked out of his world as he faces the many struggles of adulthood. Ewan McGregor turns in a very solid performance as a stern family man learning to be young at heart again. You feel that he wants to have with his wife and daughter, but after the toll the war and his job have taken on him, he isn’t really sure how.
As for Pooh and the gang, there are just as endearing as ever. While I wish certain characters like Rabbit could’ve gotten a little more screen time, I think they all were portrayed well, and represented the spirit of the original Winnie the Pooh characters properly.
But by far the funniest of them all is Eeyore (Brad Garrett). While the film lacks much humor aside from in-jokes and references to the older movies and books, Eeyore is the one thing in this movie that is consistently hilarious.
Unfortunately, the rest of the cast isn’t as strong. While Christopher Robin was given plenty of development and rightfully so, the wife and daughter were not as strong. Now Hayley Atwell is a good actress and has acted well in other movies. However, she simply isn’t that compelling in this flick. Where the daughter Madeline served some purpose to the story, Atwell’s character never really did anything of significance other than, well, give birth to Madeline. Maybe if she was killed off in the montage like the father, maybe then she could’ve added some weight to the story, leaving Christopher to balance work and raising a daughter alone. Maybe that would’ve been more powerful. Again, she wasn’t terrible by any means, she simply wasn’t very interesting.
Probably the biggest issue with the film is it’s pacing. As I said before, the beginning scene is a beautiful tribute to the classic Winnie the Pooh stories. However, once older Christopher Robin and Pooh meet up in London, the middle section of the film really begins to drag. All the other characters are gone, and don’t return until the last third.
When they do reunite with Pooh and Christopher and meet his daughter Madeline, it’s all the fun and whimsy you’d expect. However, you have to sit through a lot of dialog between Pooh and Christopher Robin that is well written and charming, but can go on for a while.
It’s funny, because other book-based movies like “Paddington” are enjoyable for adults but primarily for children. Here, “Christopher Robin” is enjoyable enough for kids, but more intended for adults. Whether or not that is a pro or con really depends on the audience. If you grew up with the books or the movie, or even the TV show, you’ll get a lot of the references and jokes that are sprinkled throughout the film. However, the youngsters or teens in the audience might be bored by some of the scenes between Christopher and Pooh.
Ultimately, I think “Christopher Robin” is touching tribute to the classic A.A. Milne characters that’s fine enough for younger viewers, but I’d mostly recommend to those who grew up reading and watching Pooh and his friends. Does it have the universal appeal of a film like “Paddington?” No.
But as far as live-action Disney films go, I was pleasantly surprised by how faithful it was to the source material while still adding something new. Not a perfect movie, but a pleasant enough experience that’s worth checking out.