Winnie-the-Pooh is by far one of Disney’s most bankable sources of guaranteed nostalgia. The silly old bear has been ingrained in the minds of young fans for several generations, so it was only a matter of time before the property got the inevitable live-action treatment as part of Disney’s continued efforts to present to bring their most valued properties to literal life. Thus, we have “Christopher Robin”, a film that doesn’t focus so much on the bear but rather his human best friend exploring how Robin reconnects with his childhood friends as an adult. The question is does this film capture the imagination of its source material or just phone in another live action attempt to make more money off of our childhoods? Let’s take a closer look and find out. This is my review of “Christopher Robin”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
“Christopher Robin” begins with the titular character headed off to boarding school and saying goodbye to his friends Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger (both voiced by Jim Cummings), Eeyore (Brad Garrett), Piglet (Nick Mohammed), Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), Kanga (Sophie Okonedo), Roo (Sara Sheen) and Owl (Toby Jones). Robin promises not to forget them but as his life progresses he experiences the harshness of boarding school life and war before marrying his wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell), having a daughter named Madeline (Bronte Carmichael) and taking a job at a luxury luggage producer as an efficiency expert. The now grown Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) has lost touch with his youth and is scarred by his experiences growing up leaving him a shell of his former self lost in his work and at a crossroads in life. When his employer forces him to work over a planned vacation weekend to cut costs and personnel, a magic door brings Pooh to London where he reconnects with Robin. The two set off to the Hundred Acre Wood to find Pooh’s friends eventually leading to the gang entering the real world to help Christopher Robin with his own situation and inspire him to recapture the joys of life.
Growing up I was a huge fan of Winnie-the-Pooh and his many iterations. I watched all the cartoons and I’m not going to lie the idea of seeing the bear and his friends in live action movie was extremely exciting. In many ways that excitement was justified and rewarded. The character designs for Pooh and his friends are awesome and look very lifelike. Kanga, Roo, Eeyore, Tigger, Piglett and Pooh match they traditional designs with more faded colors to help present them as aged and worn while Rabbit and Owl have neat designs all their own separate from their normal representations. As a fan I was really pleased with how each character was depicted. Their personalities are spot on and maybe even more in tune with the old fan theory that each of these characters portray a different mental illness from depression to hyperactivity which I also found to be pretty neat details worked into the script and screenplay. These characters we’ve come to know and love are by far the best part of this film and I can’t say enough about Jim Cummings who once again brings Tigger and Pooh to life with his unmistakable vocal talent. While I’m at it I’ll also take a moment to compliment Brad Garrett for his performance a Eeyore because the way he sells every dull, emotionless line is so funny and amusing it, once again, brought me back to my childhood and how hilarious I used to find these animals as a kid.
“Christopher Robin” was also an engaging movie despite some story problems I’ll touch on later. I found myself invested in seeing where this was all going even If I felt it should have gone in a different. The adventure Hundred Acre Wood did give me the feels of going back to my own childhood and fighting pretend “Power Ranger” monsters in the back yard and considering part of this movie’s endgame was to help viewer’s revisit their own childhoods that’s a compliment to the final product. There are some very touching moments in the second act that I think sold the project for me in the end because they reminded me of the joys that life can bring if you take the time to sit down and appreciate it, the same lesson Christopher Robin himself is supposed to learn. That is “Christopher Robin’s” greatest strength. When it focuses on the bond between Robin and his animal friends the film works really well. His relationship with them plays perfectly into the life lessons he learns along the way, I just wish we got more time to see that develop. Sadly the movie goes off the rails a bit in the third act and loses touch with this story thread but, again, more on that later.
I also enjoyed the balance of reality and fantasy in the movie’s central message. What I mean by that is as grumpy adult Christopher Robin transforms into the more sympathetic inner-child Christopher Robin he never loses touch with his responsibilities while also realizing that these responsibilities shouldn’t control his life. It’s a nice lesson for kids in the audience to learn, that one day we will all grow up but there’s no problem staying in touch with your inner child. Someday they too will have kids of their own and it’s important to inspire their use of imagination and wonder to enjoy life while they can. “Christopher Robin” also shows that even after you grow up and enter the work force to inherit the normal responsibilities of an adult you can still find joy in the simple things and that even nostalgia can work to your benefit if you approach it properly. It’s a nice message that despite the flaws of this movie I felt was made loud and clear. While “Christopher Robin” didn’t provide everything for me as a fan I give it credit to driving home an important and timely message for a generation in desperate need of some hope for their future.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
As much as I enjoyed the nostalgia and seeing some beloved characters brought into the real world for a change I must say “Christopher Robin” presented more problems for me than I think I was prepared for. As I mentioned earlier one of “Christopher Robin’s” biggest faults lies in the overall color pallet of the movie. Winnie-the-Pooh’s stories have always been layered with color and joy but here the movie is dark and dreary. Most of the film is presented with this odd grayish tone even when the sun is shining which makes every scene look rather depressing. Now you might be thinking that maybe this was done to fit Christopher Robin’s more depressed personality as an adult but it’s a constant throughout almost the entire film except for the introduction where we see younger Robin say goodbye and the final scene that closes everything out. Otherwise pretty much the entire rest of the film looks dreary which in turn takes away from the joy we’re all expected to appreciate from this movie. It’s not what you would expect when you think Winnie-the-Pooh. It’s not really cheery or inviting and, yes, sometimes it works to compliment the scene, especially when Christopher Robin experiences a pretty dark vision in the Hundred Acre Wood, but there were so many times I wanted to film to, literally and figuratively, lighten up.
The pacing is also way off with a lot of padding at the beginning of the film and a rushed conclusion that needlessly brings Pooh and his friends into the real world. It takes forever for Christopher Robin to finally find his way back into the Hundred Acre Wood. There’s a lot of buildup for it and even when he finally gets there the story moves at such a sluggish pace. There was an ironic line said by Ewan McGregor about getting nowhere fast and all I could think was that was a perfect metaphor for the movie up to that point. Then all of a sudden it just doesn’t stop. When the action finally does kick into high gear it feels like two totally different narratives and ideas that just don’t mesh. I would have loved this movie to serve purely as a way for Christopher Robin to remember his inner child. The plot about his searching for Pooh’s friends sounded intriguing and could have made for a great opportunity for us to learn more about his bond with these animals and why each of them used to mean so much to Christopher Robin. The Hundred Acre Wood narrative is over just as fast as it starts and then all of sudden Pooh and his friends cross into the real world to help Robin at his job. The transition is messy and writes out several characters simply for the sake of seeing Pooh and company in the real world. The London adventure makes up most of the third act and I didn’t think it was as fun, imaginative or even necessary. The idea of bringing characters into the real world has been explored before in movies like “The Smurfs”, “Rocky and Bullwinkle” and “Space Jam” and save for a few rare example these kinds of stories seldom make for a great film. It feels like pure fan service and to me it watered down the deeper message of the movie by adding in a pointless edge-of-your-seat race against time that added nothing to the film in the end.
I wanted to close on a something that really disappointed me. I might be in a bit of a minority here, but Ewan McGregor did NOT work for me in this movie. I found him to be an bland Christopher Robin lacking real charm or charisma. In fact I wasn’t really impressed by most of the live-action cast except Hayley Atwell who I feel brought the deepest and most committed performance to the screen as Christopher Robin’s wife Evelyn. Otherwise I really couldn’t invest in anyone who was an actual person. Christopher Robin himself feels dry and I found his evolution from depressed middle-aged man to an awakened adult to be far from smooth or believable. I didn’t feel like the transition was properly portrayed. I feel like having more Pooh than Christopher Robin would have helped with this problem. The story seems to want to focus directly on the human character, which is appropriate given the name, but it’s not Christopher Robin we enjoyed most from the source materiel was it? Sometimes it feels like the filmmakers didn’t even know what to do with the character to keep things moving. And I’ll repeat, there was so much potential in the Hundred Acre Wood story arc and it’s during this part of the tale that McGregor gives us his best work but we don’t see enough of it to really drive home the emotional weight of this film. In the end I found the performance to lack conviction or lasting charm. For a movie called “Christopher Robin” you’d think the actual character would be a bit more likable, but that sadly is not the case and that to me is the biggest disappointment I take away from this film as a whole.
In the end I’m mixed at best about “Christopher Robin”. I could take it or leave it. There are some aspects I did enjoy. Seeing these famous character in live action was neat and their designs were great. I did enjoy the overall message of the movie and I think the film does enough to get its point across, but it really doesn’t do a whole lot else. While the live-action performances weren’t nearly as bad as they could have been I just couldn’t get into Ewan McGregor’s take on the titular character. While I found myself engaged and interested in the film as a whole I really wanted to see more of the Hundred Acre Wood and I feel like there was much more potential in that part of the story without the typical “imaginary characters invade the real world” scenario that has frankly become an overused cliché. The dark pallet incorporated into the project didn’t sit well with me either. Overall it was a confusing cinematic experience that I didn’t completely hate, but I also felt had a lot more potential than what we got. Maybe Disney played it a little safe with this film or maybe the true spirit of Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends just doesn’t translate as well in live action as it does in animation. There are some great ideas but none of them feel fully fleshed out. Regardless “Christopher Robin” will do enough to satisfy fans looking for a bit of nostalgia or a live action film the whole family can embrace. However, if you’re looking for a bit more substance or a film that does its source material true justice this movie may disappoint.