Christopher Robin. Directed Marc Forster Starring Ewan McGregor. Rating: 8 (out of 10)
A.A. Milne’s 1926 book Winnie-the-Pooh was considered a salve for the collective wounds of the First World War. In today’s society – stretched thin by social detachment and political stress – is it too much to hope for that a Disney film could do the same thing?
The simple wisdom of Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood has never gone out of style, after all.
Appearing on inspirational cards, wall plaques and memes, and even as a best-selling book to explain Taoism to Westerners (Benjamin Hoff’s The Tao of Pooh), Pooh’s musings on love, friendship and strength of character are as relevant today as ever.
Director Marc Forster has helmed far grittier fare (Monster’s Ball, Quantum of Solace, World War Z) but expertly wrangles his live and voice actors for this film that oozes cuteness and promotes goodwill in every frame.
Christopher Robin is a continuation, of sorts, of Fox Searchlight’s Goodbye Christopher Robin, which told the largely true story of A.A. Milne’s struggle with shell-shock and the toll the success of his subsequent book took on his young son. Disney’s film tells the entirely fictional story of a grown-up Christopher Robin (played by Ewan McGregor), a workaholic who barely sees his family and has lost all the carefree imagination of his younger days. That is, until Pooh appears beside him on a London bench.
Jim Cummings voices Winnie-the-Pooh, computer-generated and well-worn after years of cuddling, getting stuck in honey pots and being dragged around the woods. Pooh has traveled to London to enlist Christopher Robin’s help in rescuing his friends – Piglet, Eeyore et al – in the Hundred Acre Wood. But it’s a ruse: it’s Christopher who needs rescuing. “I’m not who I used to be, I’m lost,” he admits. And so, after a mishap with a briefcase, Christopher’s furry friends decide to leave the wood in order to help him rekindle his imagination.
Their arrival is a surprise, to say the least, to Christopher’s wife Evelyn (Captain America’s Hayley Atwell). Daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael), however, is still just young enough to get caught up in the magic lost by her father. Mayhem on the streets of London ensues as Pooh and friends disrupt hackney cabs and double-decker buses. Christopher, meanwhile, is trying to navigate his mid-life crisis.
It takes a moment or two to wrap one’s head around the fact that the stuffed animals are not just alive in Christopher Robin’s imagination, but real to family members and passersby alike. And pacing shifts – along with the temporary departure of Pooh Bear and his friends – might be tricky for younger viewers to navigate.
The film joins the trend of Disney’s remakes of classic animated features into live-action films, among them Alice in Wonderland (2010), Cinderella (2015), The Jungle Book and Pete’s Dragon (both 2016) and Beauty and the Beast (2017). Dumbo is slated for March next year; Aladdin, The Lion King and Mulan are right behind it.
Tigger (also voiced by Jim Cummings), Rabbit (Dr. Who’s Peter Capaldi), Eeyore (Brad Garrett), Owl (Toby Jones), Kanga (Sophie Okonedo), and Piglet (Nick Mohammed) are all charming and necessary, but everyone’s favourite silly old bear is the true star, spouting unintended wisdom and a satisfying number of lines from Milne’s original works.
The film has a high nostalgia factor and is sure to resonate more with those of us who miss the unadulterated joy of childhood than those who are still squarely in it.
You’ll laugh a lot, and you’ll cry a bit, guaranteed. “I would’ve liked it to go on for a while longer,” says Pooh. In the end, we do too.