Christopher Robin, sees our title character as a middle-aged man, played by Ewan McGregor. Christopher has grown away from the play and imagination of his youth and has settled into an adult routine. Winnie-the-Pooh leaves the Hundred Acre Woods to find Christopher Robin to help him search for his missing friends. Pooh and Christopher go on an expotition together to find what has been lost, including the importance of family and work life balance.
A Bear of Significant Importance
I love Winnie-the-Pooh. I always have. I grew up hearing the stories at bedtime. I devoured the films, both original shorts and animated features. My mom sang the theme to me to help me fall asleep. My first attempted podcast endeavor was a show called Travels to Poohgea. Needless to say, I was excited/horrified/nervous/hopeful when I saw the Trailer for Christopher Robin.
Disney’s last outing with Winnie-the-Pooh was 2011’s Winne the Pooh. It was traditionally animated as was very much an attempt on capturing the look and feel the original 1970 shorts. It boasted a strong cast such as Craig Ferguson, John Cleese, and Jim Cummings. It even had Zooey Deschanel writing the soundtrack. 2011 was a hard year for traditional animation. To make matters worse It opened across Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallow Part II. Pooh barely made its budget back and once again was put on ice.
Disney has been blowing the dust off its old IP's and giving them new life by remaking them with live action and CGI (see Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, Alice in Wonderland etc). Christopher Robin is a project that got swept up in this corporate initiative. It can't be overlooked that a different talking bear, Ted, a year later outperformed the bear of very little brain sevenfold at the box office. The Mouse saw the money and thought: Maybe a live action talking teddy bear could work....
In Which we Play Out our Pooh Nostalgia Wondering if it Really Connects with the Youths Today
Overall, I really dug Christopher Robin. It's a charming little stroll down memory lane that at times can be poignant. The Period and London setting have a very Mary Poppins feel to it. I'll get to the character designs in a bit, but overall there is a lot of respect and reverence for the source material. At times there is almost too much reverence. Pooh is an important figure in a lot of people’s lives, myself included, but does he have the same impact today with this generation’s children?
A lot the best moments in this film are homages and allusions to what came before. Several characters and ideas aren’t fleshed out or given the proper treatments. Christopher Robin is a lot let stepping into a later MCU film and having to kind of piece together the relationships and characters. It’s possible to jump in and they do a decent enough job so that you’re not lost. A new viewer isn’t getting the same level of impact that someone who has lived with the franchise is. As Disney’s latest attempt to bring the 100 Acres Woods back the reliance on nostalgia-as-exposition is regrettable.
The other thing that concerns me about Christopher Robin is the pacing. This moving moves at a funeral pace. For the adults in the audience maybe it’s a relief in an over saturated, CGI action, superhero world. I worry that there’s not enough to grab the kids and keep then interested. Not to be crude or boil it down exclusively to brass tack, but it takes a long time to get Winnie-the-Pooh and Co. on screen. There are also several extended stretches where they are nowhere to be found. Christopher Robin’s adult struggles are extremely-- adult. The slower and reflective pace may play well for the adult audience but there’s just not as much for kids to revel in.
In Which we Celebrate Seeing our Friends Again As always
Criticisms aside there is a lot to dig here. First and foremost, Ewan McGregor is a joy. He elevates the script he received. It would have been incredibly easy to a deliver a one note performance focusing on the uptight adult archetype Christopher starts the film in. There is nuance in what McGregor is doing. The compassion and love you see him show for these teddies is also incredible. There are several tender moments where McGregor and Pooh are just sitting together and embracing and you can really feel that relationship from childhood being processed through an adult lens.
I’d be remised if I didn’t mention Jim Cummings, the long and distinguished voice of Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger too. Cummings delivers the same performance we have come to expect over the last several decades. The live action twist does not take away from the charm of his performance. It is also further cements in my mind that when Cummings retires this character should retire with him as he has made it so much his own.
As promised let’s talk about the character design. There were some interesting mis continuities between the dwellers of the 100 Acre Woods. Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, and Eeyore were all children’s plushies brought to life. This was true for Kanga and Roo as well. Owl and Rabbit on the other hand were much more realistic. Looking like the talking real life versions of the animals. This was a bit confusing, but the audience doesn’t have to dwell on it too much as the cast of adventures gets paired down to Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, and Eeyore.
The design of the character mostly works. Obviously, there is a look and feel I am personally attached to, and making a live action version is a departure. At times the teddy bear quality of the characters was a little distracting for me. A little too much detail on the fur or a facial animation that are so realistic their cartoon origins get lost. There are several shots in this movie that do truly nail it. They tend to be a bit wider and have some more depth, but seeing Pooh interact in the 100 Acre Woods is magical. It looks ripped out the pages of the illustrations in the book or animated adaptations.
Christopher Robin ends up being a mixed bag. It is a fun trip down memory lane and there are some stellar performances in it. The overarching theme and story don’t hit hard enough to really justify the project’s existence. I was nervous when this project was brought to life. It stops significantly short of being disrespectful of the source material. For a superfan of Pooh there’s a lot to enjoy, but it doesn’t make much effort to expand the fandom and let newcomers in. I don’t think this is a must see in theaters. It’s a great Netflix rainy day kind of film.