Christopher Robin is a re-imagining full of heart and soul that, like the best Disney features, has something of value to offer audiences of all ages.
When the Mouse House announced it was making a live-action movie about Winnie the Pooh’s famous human friend having grown up, the project naturally drew comparisons to Hook, i.e. Steven Spielberg’s own film about a symbol of childhood from classic literature becoming an adult. Thankfully, the similarities between Disney’s Christopher Robin and Spielberg’s Peter Pan sequel don’t extend much beyond the premise. Far from it, director Marc Forster’s film is a layered fairy tale full of whimsy and wonder beneath a beautifully melancholic surface (Eeyore would approve), with a refreshingly progressive message at its core. Christopher Robin is a re-imagining full of heart and soul that, like the best Disney features, has something of value to offer audiences of all ages.
As a boy growing up in the Sussex countryside, Christopher Robin spends his days playing in the Hundred Acre Wood with his (magical toy) friends: downbeat Eeyore (Brad Garrett), diminutive Piglet (Nick Mohammed), fussy Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), kindly Kanga (Sophie Okonedo), little Roo (Sara Sheen), scholarly Owl (Toby Jones), boisterous Tigger (Jim Cummings) and, of course, lovably simple and ever hungry Winnie the Pooh (also Cummings). Eventually, however, Christopher leaves his childhood pals behind to attend boarding school. Over the years that follow, he endures hardship after hardship – be it the death of family members or his time fighting during WWII – as he grows up, gets a job, and even starts a family of his own.
By 1949, Christopher (Ewan McGregor) is now living in London with his wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael), and weighed down by his responsibilities as the efficiency manager for Winslow Luggage. When Christopher tries to spend a weekend on holiday with his oft-neglected family, he is informed by his boss Giles Winslow (Mark Gatiss) that he must instead spend that time figuring out how to cut the company’s costs… or else, several members of his department will be fired the week after. Struggling to find a solution, Christopher gets help from a most unexpected source – namely, Pooh Bear, who suddenly shows up in London, searching for his friends.
Written by Alex Ross Perry (Queen of Earth), Allison Schroeder (Hidden Figures), and Oscar-winner Tom McCarthy (Spotlight) – from a story credited to Greg Brooker (Stuart Little) and Mark Steven Johnson (Ghost Rider) – Christopher Robin manages the tricky balancing act of providing a worthwhile story that speaks to both grown-up and kids for different reasons, yet isn’t strictly aimed at either demographic. Much like David Lowery and Disney’s Pete’s Dragon retelling, Forster’s Winnie the Pooh movie is able to wrestle with serious adult issues in a thoughtful manner, while adhering to a consistently playful tone throughout its runtime. This, in turn, allows Christopher Robin to embrace a more contemporary grounded look and feel, even as it carries over the innocence of Disney’s animated A.A. Milne adaptations before it.
The film’s mix of gentle magical realism and gritty arthouse sensibility is reflected in the photorealistic CGI designs of The Bear of Very Little Brain and his pals from the Hundred Acre Wood. While some people were put off by Winnie the Pooh’s appearance as a worn-out toy come to life in the original Christopher Robin trailer, the final version is far cuddlier and more expressive than the comparatively stiff unfinished iteration (as are Tigger, Piglet, and the rest of the gang). Forster and his cinematographer Matthias Koenigswieser (All I See Is You) paint the characters’ world in muted shades of color and light, in turn creating a vintage portrait of foggy London and the English countryside that feels down to earth yet fantastical, all at once. A lovely score by Jon Brion (Lady Bird) and Geoff Zanelli (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) further serves to enrich the movie’s enchanting atmosphere and mood.
McGregor is equally pitch-perfect here in the way he expresses a sense of boyish charm and innocence beneath Christopher Robin’s hardened adult exterior. The film itself paints its titular protagonist in a more complicated and sympathetic light than other workaholic husbands and dads in movies past, making his journey over the course of the story all the more compelling and relatable. Christopher Robin is foremost a story about its namesake and his daughter, yet it takes the time to flesh out his relationship with Evelyn and, thanks in no small part to Atwell’s endearing performance, gives the character a proper sense of agency and independence. As for the Silly Old Bear and his peers: their respective voice actors all hit the right notes, with Cummings’ especially rich vocal performances bringing the full weight of his thirty years of experience voicing Winnie the Pooh and Tigger for the Mouse House.
Christopher Robin further stands apart from similar films about dads who work too much in the way it shows compassion for the working class and provides an unexpectedly (yet effectively) clear-cut critique of capitalism, on the way to its ending. The movie isn’t afraid to take a political stance in that regard, but its argument emerges as a natural conclusion to the overarching themes of the narrative here. Gatiss, as the comically thoughtless and privileged heir to the Winslow family’s company, makes for an equally timely antagonist – and the actor plays the character in a fittingly smarmy fashion. Christopher Robin doesn’t explore this subtext or the other issues it broaches here (like how his time fighting in WWII impacted Christopher) as deeply as it could have, but it’s nice to see a mainstream Disney movie touch upon such difficult subject matter in the first place.
All in all, Christopher Robin is a live-action Disney re-imagining that successfully delights and pulls on heartstrings in equal measure. It’s a quieter and slower movie than other kid-friendly offerings in theaters right now, but also one that may leave a stronger impression on them and take on newfound meaning, when they revisit it later in life. Older filmgoers will be best able to appreciate its messages now, as well as its nods to the classic Winnie the Pooh animated features before it (especially, when it comes to the songs). Whatever your age, really, this return trip to the Hundred Acre Wood should prove to be a rewarding one.
Christopher Robin is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 104 minutes long and is rated PG for some action.
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