Who doesn’t love Winnie the Pooh? Created by English author A. A. Milne (and artist E. H. Shepard) for the aptly-titled 1926 anthology Winnie-the-Pooh, Pooh and his cast of characters have been delighting children of all ages for over ninety years, now. We all have a character in the Hundred Acre Wood that we can individually relate to. For the longest time, mine was Eeyore, as I was often just happy to be noticed though, now – as an adult – I expend a lot of energy trying not to be noticed. Still, each character is relatable for someone and they have all become enduring icons who are now being gifted with the live-action theatrical treatment for the first time in their existence.
Everyone I’ve spoken with regarding this movie is both excited about and intrigued by it. The trailers and other marketing efforts have all been successful in capturing the imagination of audiences and generating buzz. I suspect that the film will exceed expectations at the weekend box office as adults and kids alike venture out to satisfy the inquisitiveness generated by what they’ve seen, thus far. After all, until now, we’ve never had a film quite like this one and, until I saw the trailer, I couldn’t even envision what these characters would look like in live action. Now, I don’t have to. Christopher Robin has arrived.
In the film, young Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) is sent off to boarding school, necessitating his departure from home as well as his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood. Decades later, when Winnie the Pooh (Jim Cummings) rediscovers an adult Christopher Robin, he is perplexed to find that Christopher has not only changed physically, but emotionally, as well. Gone is the fun-loving boy of so many years ago and in his place is a work-obsessed stick-in-the-mud with little time for anything or anyone outside of his professional responsibilities.
I could go on from there without really spoiling anything, but I think that’s enough to get the idea across. The film’s biggest weakness lies in the fact that we’ve all seen Christopher Robin’s character arc in dozens of films, books, and television shows before this one. It’s predictable, safe, and clichéd. It’s also worth being reminded of, from time to time. We all know those types who are all Serious Business, all the time. No fun; never any fun. They hate movies, music, television, sports, books, laughter, happiness, love, kittens, puppies, babies, chocolate, pizza, Emilia Clarke and everything else that is unequivocally good. And that usually stems from a conscious choice they made to break from their inner child and “be an adult”. There’s a reason the film is entitled Christopher Robin and that’s because it wants to tell this particular story, even if it’s a story we’ve seen before.
So, yes, thematically, there’s nothing new here. But I’ve become overtly familiar with modern moviegoing audiences and very few of them are heading to the movies for the emotional themes. It’s unlikely that many will care that the moral of the story is an old one; this film is much more about the journey than the destination. In the prologue, we get a glimpse of young Christopher Robin with Pooh and his crew as they throw him a goodbye party. It’s a touch of the familiar, rather sweet, and a little sad as these anthropomorphic animals say goodbye to their friend – possibly for forever, as far as they know.
From there, things take a brief dip in quality as we see adult Christopher Robin in his daily life. Hayley Atwell is always welcome and, here, she plays Christopher’s wife Evelyn. All is good with that. But Christopher’s direct supervisor at work, Giles Winslow (Mark Gatiss) brings some undesired British silliness and slapstick to the movie. He’s goofy, exaggerated, and just hard to buy into. Any attempt at humor using the Giles character falls completely flat and, at this point, I was starting to worry about the rest of the film.
Fortunately, once Christopher and Pooh are reunited, things are okay, again. In fact, they’re more than okay. At this point, the film becomes exactly what I was hoping it would become. Pooh’s stories have never been bombastic or elaborate and making this one that way would have felt dishonest and like a betrayal. Director Marc Forster is painstakingly faithful to the spirit of the Pooh stories we all grew up with, from the scale to the characterizations and everything in between.
The story is very simple, just as Pooh would have it. For Pooh, doing nothing is doing something, and that’s a sentiment I have always been able to relate to. When I was in high school, sometimes some of my friends would get frustrated with me when they wanted to go out and do “something”, but I had longstanding plans to stay home on Friday night and finally read that book I’d been dying to crack open or watch that movie I’d bought. To them, I was doing “nothing”. To me, I was very much doing “something” and leaving the house wasn’t always necessary to do “something”. Pooh is the Seinfeld of cartoon characters; the most uneventful of experiences is a remarkable occurrence for Pooh. The same is true for the film. If one were to lay out the movie’s events on paper, it would seem largely bland. But in execution, it’s a joy to watch.
If you’re worried that your favorite character would be changed for this film adaptation, your fears were unfounded. These are very much the characters as they have always been presented – at least under Disney’s custodianship. Eeyore (Brad Garrett) is still my favorite and, in my opinion, the funniest character in the movie, even though that isn’t in any way his intention. Eeyore is brutally honest and says the things he wants to say, rather than what others would prefer him to say. He is unapologetically himself and I love him for it. And so do the others, which is awesome. Pooh is much the same way and he also supplies quite a few good laughs for those who are willing to think (think, think) about what he’s saying. I do wish some of the others had gotten more screen time, but all of the Hundred Acre Wood cast are charming and endearing, sure to appeal to longtime fans and the previously uninitiated, alike.
While it’s a fact that Christopher Robin offers little new in the way of substance, it offers plenty in terms of surface qualities, wit, and heart. Just seeing these characters come to life in this way is a delight and allowing them to remind us of the importance of staying in touch with our inner child is the least we can do. Maybe not all of us need that reminder, but it’s fun to watch them provide it, anyway. Ultimately, the film doesn’t quite have the emotional resonance that I was expecting – probably due to the common themes – but I still felt a connection to what I was watching and I think most others will, as well. Go check this one out; by skipping it, you’re becoming your own adult Christopher Robin. And Pooh wouldn’t want that.
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