Christopher Robin (2018)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
Who doesn’t love Winnie the Pooh and Tigger and Eeyore and all the residents of the Hundred-Acre Wood?
Bringing the stuffed animals believably to life on screen is a wonderful thing and Marc Forster’s new film soars when they get to carry the story along.
From a technical standpoint, Christopher Robin is really well-made and pleasant to experience in the theater.
I mean, have you seen Paddington 2? Because there is zero comparison between the two.
The first half of the movie is going to be a struggle for younger viewers to sit through. While not bad, I struggle to think kids coming to see Winnie the Pooh and Friends are going to understand or care about work/life balance and redundancies at a luggage company.
I almost want you to avoid this because the potential for disappointment is immense, after that charming and wonderful trailer from earlier in the year.
Disney clearly thought they had this figured out. When they launched the trailer for Christopher Robin this past spring, they showed a grown-up Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) surprised to see his best friend from childhood - a living, breathing incarnation of Winnie the Pooh sitting across from him on a park bench. Audiences “Aww’d!” and childhoods were instantly brought back to life for countless scores of moviegoers, excited that the residents of the Hundred-Acre Wood would finally be brought to life.
Directed by Marc Forster (Finding Neverland), McGregor portrays Christopher as a middle-aged man, married to Evelyn (Hayley Atwell), with daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael). He works in a high-level position as a fiscal manager with the Winslow Luggage Company, and the demands of his job keep him increasingly away from home.
With a downturn in profits, Christopher is told by his boss that he must find and make significant staffing reductions, given essentially a weekend to complete the work. When he breaks plans with his family, informing them that he cannot join them on a vacation to his childhood cottage, Evelyn is frustrated and Madeline disappointed because, yet again, Christopher has put work ahead of his family.
If you’re wondering where A.A. Milne’s beloved characters are through all of this, you are not alone. After a sweet opening sequence, Winnie, Tigger, Eeyore, Piglet, Kanga, Roo, Owl, and Rabbit go away for a decent amount of time, as we see Christopher meander through a stressful corporate existence and fracturing homelife.
Kids: Are You Not Entertained?!?!?
Okay. Maybe that last jab is not entirely fair. Christopher Robin is not a bad movie at all, just misguided in its approach. For those expecting Winnie The Pooh and his friends to leap off the page and steal our hearts for a couple of hours, you might be digging in the popcorn bucket longer than you wanted to.
The premise is an intriguing one: Whatever became of the only human being who was able to see these stuffed animals as real animals, and who shared amazing childhood memories with them he must basically keep to himself? Has he learned the lessons they shared together in the Hundred-Acre Wood? Did Christopher Robin pass down the stories of his youth to his own children?
Well…I mean…screenwriters Alex Ross Perry and Allison Schroeder (along with an uncredited rewrite from Tom McCarthy) seem really preoccupied with Christopher’s consternation, forcing the sweet-tempered child to go through domestic struggles as an adult, serving as the catalyst to bring Winnie the Pooh to London, where he finds his best friend trying to find a moment’s peace and quiet.
When Pooh and his friends are on screen, Forster’s film bursts to life, even if Perry and Schroeder give short-shrift to several characters, basically reducing them to a mere line or two of dialogue.
As well as this could have worked, the movie simply loses steam whenever it looks beyond our fuzzy little friends. The acting is largely top notch, McGregor is a terrific choice to play Christopher Robin, but because he is mired is the melancholy of work/life balance, his scenes with Atwell’s Evelyn and Carmichael’s Madeline lack a spark. This is significant when Forster tries to curry emotion with the viewers, which ultimately is borne out of the fact that the humble little boy we know from classic stories is made to look like something of a deadbeat dad.
Compounding the overall disappointment is the fact that, when looking at the individual parts, there is so much here to be happy with.
The production design is richly detailed, the visual effects in animating Winnie the Pooh and friends is flawless, and they even brought back the legendary Richard Sherman, who, now 90 years young, writes and performs three original songs for the film.
So how did Forster and Disney fumble this project?
I couldn’t help but think about 2018’s irresistible, brilliant Paddington 2, or even the most recent Winnie The Pooh animated film from 2011 - two of the best family films of the decade. The issue is not that the movie focuses on Christopher Robin per se, but rather that Forster and his screenwriters have no idea how to engage adults and children alike consistently throughout the film.
Rare is the film that has so many wonderful qualities that fail to measure up as something meaningful and memorable, but Christopher Robin sadly, almost inexplicably, falls a bit short.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael, Mark Gatiss, Ronke Adekoluejo, Orton O’Brien.
Featuring the Voices of: Jim Cummings, Brad Garrett, Nick Mohammed, Peter Capaldi, Sophie Okonedo, Sara Sheen, Toby Jones.
Director: Marc Forster
Written by: Alex Ross Perry, Allison Schroeder (screenplay), Tom McCarthy (uncredited); Greg Brooker, Mark Steven Johnson (story).
Based on characters created for the short story series “Winnie-The-Pooh” by A.A. Milne and E.H Shepard.
Release Date: August 3, 2018
Walt Disney Pictures