Starring: Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell & Jim Cummings
Directed by: Marc Forster
Distributed by: Walt Disney Studios
Release Date: August 2018
Running Time: 104 minutes
Synopsis: Christopher Robin, the young boy who embarked on countless adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood with his band of spirited and lovable stuffed animals, has grown up and lost his way. Now it is up to his childhood friends to venture into our world and help Christopher Robin remember the loving and playful boy who is still inside.
Ever since his conception, Winnie the Pooh has been a character that symbolises the innocence of childhood. Created in the 1920s by A.A. Milne for his son (the real life Christopher Robin), the character and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood have entertained generations of children before, like most classic children stories, they were immortalised forever by Walt Disney. As a result, the Disney design of Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet and Eeyore has become even more synonymous with the characters than A.A. Milne’s original illustrations, and the franchise has spawned a number of animated movies and television shows over the decades. Christopher Robin is the first live-action ‘sequel’ to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and follows an adult version of the titular character who has grown up and become so preoccupied with work that he risks losing his connection to his wife and child.
If the concept of taking an iconic Disney character and having them grow up to adulthood feels somewhat familiar, then you might be thinking of Steven Spielberg’s classic movie Hook, which sees an adult Peter Pan forced to remember his repressed youth in order to save his children. Filled with action and plenty of “nostalgia porn” moments, Hook remains one of my all-time favourite movies and is able to capture everything that makes Peter Pan great but develops the story into fresh directions. Christopher Robin certainly retreads many of the same footprints left by Hook in regards to the dangers of growing up and forgetting your inner-child, but where Peter Pan lends itself naturally towards swashbuckling adventure, the animals of the Hundred Acre Wood have a much more laid-back, meandering pace to their stories.
Ewan McGregor plays the lead role masterfully, bringing a subtle nuance and exasperation to his performance as he unwittingly finds himself in the midst of either a nervous breakdown or a trip back to his childhood ‘safe space’. Caught between the responsibilities of adulthood, be it downsizing his team of employees or ensuring his daughter is properly educated, McGregor’s Christopher Robin has lost that spark of imagination that he once had as a young boy. The character closely resembles another one of Walt Disney’s iconic fathers – Mr Banks from Mary Poppins – and much like in that movie, it takes a little bit of magic to make Christopher Robin rediscover the priorities in life.
The real emotional meat of this movie is the relationship between Christopher Robin and Pooh Bear and those moments where they first reunite are absolutely terrific. The realistic toy design of Pooh and his friends allows for far more expressive and emotive moments than the cartoon animations ever could, and much like Detective Pikachu, the redesign makes sense in the context of a live-action movie. This isn’t Who Framed Roger Rabbit after all, and the inclusion of the traditional Disney animated designs would have been distracting. Jim Cummings, the voice of Pooh Bear since 1988, does return to the role however to create consistency with the animated version. Cummings’ performance as the lovable “bear of little brain” is brilliant, and centres the whole film.
The supporting cast put in some great performances too, especially Hayley Atwell and Bronte Carmichael, who play Christopher Robin’s wife and daughter. Atwell manages to make a lot out of a minor role, whilst Carmichael shines in the final act when she steps into her father’s shoes. Mark Gatiss also stands out as Christopher Robin’s slimy nepotistic boss, bringing with him that sense of unpleasantness that permeated many of his characters in The League of Gentlemen. Aside from Cummings, none of the incumbent voice actors for the animals appear in this live-action movie with celebrities such as Peter Capaldi and Sophie Okonedo taking over – as a result, the other animals sound a little bit off-key at times. That said, Brad Garrett’s vocal delivery as Eeyore is pitch-perfect, which will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen him as Robert in Everybody Loves Raymond.
One element that really pleased me was that the film didn’t leave it ambiguous as to whether Pooh Bear and his friends are real, or just imaginary friends. We get a definitive answer, which I won’t spoil here, but it was the right decision for the story and results in a very satisfying final act. I went into the movie expecting to be in floods of tears by the end, but it never quite hit the same emotional heights as when Andy gives away Buzz and Woody at the end of Toy Story 3. That film reduces me to a blubbering mess no matter how many times I’ve seen it, whereas in actuality, the end of this film is quite uplifting and doesn’t really try and pull for the heartstrings. While Christopher Robin does create some enjoyable moments out of its central premise, Hook remains the definitive film of the genre – mainly due to the fact Robin Williams’ performance in that film is magnificently unforgettable.
A curious mix of Winnie the Pooh and Mary Poppins, Christopher Robin is the perfect feel-good film for a lazy Sunday afternoon with its gentle pace and comforting familiarity. A worthy sequel to the original Winnie the Pooh adventures, it is just as enjoyable for big kids as it is for normal-sized ones too!