PG, 120 mins.
2018, PG, 120 mins.
Ewan McGregor as Christopher Robin / Hayley Atwell as Evelyn Robin / Mark Gatiss as Giles Winslow / Jim Cummings as Winnie the Pooh / Tigger (voice) / Nick Mohammed as Piglet (voice) / Peter Capaldi as Rabbit (voice) / Brad Garrett as Eeyore (voice) / Bronte Carmichael as Madeline Robin / Sophie Okonedo as Kanga (voice) / Toby Jones as Owl (voice)
Directed by Marc Forster / Written by Allison Schroeder, Alex Ross Perry, and Tom McCarthy
CHRISTOPHER ROBIN is the kind of sweet and good natured family film that are simply not made in abundance anymore. Dripping with good natured and infectious charm, the latest live action Disney effort (seeking inspiration from one of their classic and iconic animated films) reminds viewers of the enjoyable virtues of simply told fables, and ones done without any semblance of annoying cynicism or forced edge.
That, and it's an
earnestly engineered homage to it's source material, namely the turn of
20th Century volume of books written by A.A. Milne and illustrated by E.H.
Shepherd, which inspired Disney to make an animated feature film of the
material. The studio, no
doubt, has milked the Winnie the Pooh brand for decades, using the
literary creation to spawn countless movies, TV shows, and books, which
may have some viewers watching CHRISTOPHER ROBIN crying "cash
grab!" However, the resulting film is so affably effective that
it's really hard not to embrace it.
CHRISTOPHER ROBIN takes its name from the boy protagonist that populated
the Pooh forest dwelling universe, comprised of, yes, the most famous
talking honey addicted bear of all-time and his pals: Piglet, the donkey
Eeyore, Owl, Rabbit, and the manically energetic Tigger, just to name a
few. The film opens with a
farewell party, of sorts, for the young Christopher, who's saying his
final goodbyes to his friends and companions in the magical Hundred Acre
Wood, being forced by his parents to attend boarding school, leaving Pooh
and his companies feeling deeply melancholic.
We then segue into a remarkably effective opening montage,
showcasing Christopher maturing from childhood to adolescence and then
finally into adulthood, during which time we see him marching off to
boarding school, watching his father die, and, more depressingly, being
sent to the font lines of WWII as a soldier.
All of this transpires within the first ten minutes of CHRISTOPHER
ROBIN, and it does a very expeditious job of dispensing with expositional
particulars and thrusting us into the real epicenter of the story to come.
When the film
arrives in the present (post-WWII), we learn that older Christopher (Ewan
McGregor) is married to a wife in Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and is a father
to a young daughter, Madeline (Bronte Carmichael).
Everything superficially appears ideal in his world, but
Christopher's life away from Pooh and the gang is typified by multiple
stresses. Firstly, he's an
obsessive workaholic as an efficiency expert at a local luggage factory,
and he spends so much of his available time there that he has all but
become an absentee father and husband.
Even more pathetic is that he has to cancel his planned vacation
with his family at the last minute to spend the weekend at work
determining who he's going to terminate to ensure his company's
financial future. He sends
Evelyn and Madeline away to their cottage so he can fully commit himself
to the job ahead. Any
semblance of the past spirited lad with a thirst for play and adventure
with his old stuffed pals appears dead and gone.
Fate, as it
always does, steps in when Pooh (voiced with soothing gravitas by Jim
Cummings) makes a very impromptu reappearance in Christopher's life,
leaving the latter rather shocked, yet quietly elated by meeting up with
his childhood companion that he left all those decades ago.
Unfortunately for Pooh, Christopher has no time for play, seeing as
he has so much work to complete in a relatively short time.
Realizing that the innocently meddling Pooh is causing unnecessary
distractions and impeding his work schedule, Christopher decides to
smuggle the little stuffed teddy bear back to the Hundred Acre Wood, which
proves mightily challenging through the streets of London without tipping
off the talking animal's existence. When
he does stumble back in the woods and return Pooh he manages to
inadvertently inspire a reunion with all of his old friends, and soon it
becomes clear that the workaholic may not get much work done at all.
infectiously endearing sections of CHRISTOPHER ROBIN all involve the
titular character returning and acclimating himself back to the Hundred
Acre Wood, and special props needs to be given to McGregor, who does an
exceedingly thankless job of selling the illusion that his character is
authentically interacting with a bunch of tiny animals, all captured with
some equally thankless visual effects.
All of the iconic Pooh-universe characters are brought lovingly to
life from their previous animated film forms, although some of them
suffer from a murkier color palette than I would have liked.
Nevertheless, McGregor carries the film with a jubilant energy and
a very game spirit, which is noteworthy seeing as he most likely spent
many a day playing off of nothing on green screen soundstages (his work on
the STAR WARS prequels, no
doubt, assisted him here). But
there's also a hidden depth to McGregor's performance that the wrong type
of actor would have failed to register.
Played too broadly and Christopher would have come off as a
cartoonish buffoon, but played too morosely and he would have been an
unsympathetic slog. McGregor
is so good here as a conflicted and beleaguered adult being mentally
overrun by life's problems that also, when certain scenes require it, can
easily tap back into a childlike sense of whimsy that his friends
reinstall in him.
Of course, the
computer animated characters own this film, and even though I was
consciously aware that they were the product of VFX, they still felt
tactile and real to me, mostly because of the sublime voice work on
display. I especially admired
Brad Garrett wonderfully inhabiting the lazy sour puss that is Eeyore, who
garners some of the film's best hearty laughs because of his perpetual
grumpiness. The predictable
standout, though, is Cummings' soft-spoken tour de force voice work as
Pooh, who never once misses an auditory beat in fully realizing this
legendary character's cozy effervescence
and totally chill demeanor. Watching
every single scene that Pooh occupies here is as comfortable and nostalgic
as putting on an old sweater, and Pooh's matter of fact ability to
dispense deceptively shrewd bits of everyday wisdom make up some of the
film's finest moments. "People say nothing is impossible," he explains at
one point, "but I do nothing everyday!"
I think one of
the nagging deficiencies with CHRISTOPHER ROBIN is that it contains a
underlining storyline and character arcs that are fairly preordained.
We know right from the beginning of the film that the broken and
disillusioned man that is Christopher - who's becoming more emotionally
separated from his family by the day due to work constraints - will
relearn what it means to be truly alive in life and appreciate what's most
important in it through his new adventures with Pooh and company.
HOOK, nearly three decades ago, told a very similar storyline, also
about a famous Disney character that re-aquainted himself with his inner
child, which will have many in the audience feeling deja vu like symptoms
while watching CHRISTOPHER ROBIN. The
film's ultimate message of adults needing to reconnect with their
childhoods in order to become better parents, husbands, and people in
general has a patent obviousness here that sort of holds the film back
from escaping narrative clichés.
CHRISTOPHER ROBIN is so undeniably winning in the right parts, and once
you go with the flow of the film it's a very hard one to openly resist its
ample pleasures. And after
Disney has spent so much of the last few years adapting their greatest
animated films of yesteryear into live action retreads (I could go on and
on about how creatively lazy that is, but I won't), I admired CHRISTOPHER
ROBIN as more of a continuation of its brand and its story, which helps, I
think, overcome most critical objections that it's a cheap box
office gab. Lastly, director
Marc Forster's (WORLD WAR Z, QUANTUM
OF SOLACE, and FINDING
NEVERLAND) shows great reverence for the source material and
certainly isn't out to make a financially motivated piece of outright
sacrilege. CHRISTOPHER ROBIN is a wholesomely old fashioned
endeavor and honorable tribute to the work of A.A. Milne and E.H.
Shepard that will certainly appease and win over both young audiences and
older viewers that wish they were young again.