A film review by Craig J. Koban August 16, 2018


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. 

Of course, 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. 

The real 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.   

Still, 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. 

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