Unlike last year’s Goodbye Christopher Robin, which was an account of the circumstances that led to A.A. Milne creating the Winnie-the-Pooh character, this week’s Christopher Robin is a fictional story about the boy from the stories after he’s grown up, fought in World War II, got married and had a child of his own. But most importantly, he’s forgotten the Hundred Acre Wood and all of the creatures—some stuffed animals, some actual woodland ones—that he befriended as a child, as more pressing and adult concerns crowd his world.
Directed by Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, The Kite Runner), the film is a meditation on the perils of growing older and leaving behind the places and mental space that made you happy, relaxed and eager for each new day to begin.
On the surface, this may not sound like much of a children’s film. But there’s also an adventure element to Christopher Robin (not unlike another very popular, bear-centric family film of late) that should keep the kids entertained to a degree. Ewan McGregor stars as the adult Christopher Robin, who has grown up to occupy the very exciting job of efficiency expert at a luggage company that is facing some serious cutbacks.His boss (Mark Gatiss) is threatening to fire many of Christopher’s co-workers if he doesn’t spend the weekend figuring out where other non-employee cuts can be made in the budget, which means that once again, Christopher has to put on hold a planned weekend outing with his wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael), who decide to go without him.
Meanwhile back in the Hundred Acre Wood, Pooh wakes up one morning to find that all of his friends are gone. There are a few moments in the movie that get surprisingly dark and melancholy, and Pooh’s loneliness in this moment is palpable. He crawls through a secret door, which puts him in a London park, right across the street from where Christopher lives, and the two are reunited. We’re not sure at first if or how other people see Pooh (does he look like a regular stuffed bear that only Christopher can hear talk?), and Christopher certainly thinks he’s snapped when Pooh shows up in his life again. But eventually it becomes clear that, while Pooh has come to bring Christopher Robin back to the Wood to help find his old friends, Pooh is also there to save his playmate from falling all the way down the dreaded pit of adulthood.
Pooh and the other animal characters are rendered to look like talking stuffed or real animals, and the effects and interaction between them and humans and their environments is impressive, as is the voice cast, which includes Jim Cummings as Pooh and Tigger (he’s been doing those voices for decades in the cartoons), Brad Garrett as Eeyore, Toby Jones as Owl, Peter Capaldi as Rabbit, Sophie Okonedo as Kanga, and Nick Mohammed as Piglet, among others. To see these creatures taken from the Wood and into the London environment is so strange and hilarious that this fish-out-of-water element of the film is some of the funniest material. And once we realize that everyone in the film can see and hear these creatures, it becomes a very different kind of fantasy story, in which nearly every human character freaks out when they witness the impossible.
One of the most interesting aspects of Christopher Robin is that its screenplay comes courtesy of such esteemed writers as Alex Ross Perry, Tom McCarthy and Allison Schroeder, which may account for some of the more serious roads the movie travels down occasionally. I won’t lie, seeing Pooh walking through a foggy, dimly lit woods carrying a single red balloon looks like a scene right out of the sequel to It.
But the way the writers dissect and simplify adult responsibilities so that Pooh can understand them (I’m not sure he ever truly does) is adorable and packs far more of an emotional punch than I’d suspected it could. And there are shots of nature in the Woods that look like they were shot by Terrence Malick—I’m pretty sure on purpose. Admittedly, Pooh’s inability to understand the very basics of Christopher’s life make him seem like a stuffed Chauncey Gardiner from Being There, but maybe the fact that he doesn’t get why anyone would choose work over loved ones is the point of the film.
Christopher Robin is an odd duck of a film, and for younger children, the nuances of the screenplay are going to soar over their tiny heads. I actually think that the lessons wrapped up in its story are geared more toward adults than kids. As I mentioned, there are a few low-stakes action sequences in the final act, and Christopher’s meeting with his bosses to discuss his ideas for cuts at the company is a bit of a head-scratcher. But the film is harmless, full of thoughtful questions about what it is to be a grown up, and a bit of fun when all is said and done. It’s certainly not essential viewing, but the period production design and costumes are well done, and things get lively enough to keep things interesting.
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