A bear necessity in a bleak cinemascape.
I never thought much about the Winnie The Pooh animated shorts and feature movie from Disney back in the late 70s. It’s a sweet tale of adolescence where the titular character, which was initially crafted from the imagination of one Christopher Robin, goes about his adventures in the Hundred Acre Woods; mundane adventures involving possible kleptomania (the bit about the honey) and containing a hyperactive energy-driven comrade (the bit with Tigger).
They’re nice and good fluff pieces of entertainment, but nothing more. However, other people seem to cherish this bear and his misadventures, so it’s obvious that Disney will take the film-making route where they add a spin to an already-existing animated feature ala Maleficent and Pete’s Dragon. In this case, it’s a full-fledged sequel in live action and CGI.
An Impawssible Follow-Up Feat?
Naturally, if you want to make such a film, you’ll have to take a different approach while also keeping to the innocence and sombre theme of the Disney films (and passing some semblance from the A.A Milne-written source material). It’s a tough balancing act for sure. Guess Disney did right with picking Marc Forster, known for adult visceral fares like Monster’s Ball, World War Z, and Machine Gun Priest. Right?
In all seriousness, Christopher Robin is a genuine heartwarming film about the grown-up titular character finding his inner child. He’s in his not-so-fun job as a luggage company’s efficiency manager, his relationship with his wife and kid are strained, and he’s made weary from the death of his father in his youth and also coming out of a World War.
Luckily, he slowly ends up rediscovering the joys of life and “doing nothing” with help from Winnie The Pooh, who coincidentally is looking for his other stuffed animal friends while the Hundred Acre Woods is covered in fog.
If this premise sounds a bit like Steven Spielberg’s Hook, that’s because parts and themes of it are, even right down to the on-the-nose metaphor of the narrative. Only replace the pirates with CGI stuffed animals that spout a combination of confusing, silly, and insightful thoughts and brain farts. As if that wasn’t enough, the desaturation of the film’s aesthetics and shots are as subtle as the sledgehammer, especially when we get to the second and third act where things get flipped around colour-wise.
The whole film hinges on Ewan McGregor’s performance as an older Christopher Robin and his transformation from workaholic to fun-loving adult. Unsurprisingly, he aced it especially since the majority of the film needed him to interact with CGI characters. That’s not really a problem since he was in three Star Wars films where the word “special” doesn’t mean jack in a movie filled with “special effects”. Even so, he displays a good range of character growth, self-realization, and wit from a grown-up Christopher Robin ravaged by the pressures and expectations of real life.
The Right To Bear Arms
Special credit should go to Hailey “Agent Carter” Atwell as Christopher’s wife Evelyn and Bronte Carmichael as his kid Madeline who act as they should in a “weary old family man goes back to being a boy” story arc. But the other main crux of the film is the ensemble voiceover cast from the legendary Jim Cummings to Brad Garrett. Jim voiced both Pooh and Tigger, each with their respective trademark wispy ramblings and hyperactive energetic talkabouts. Brad’s Eeyore goes for the jugular with his depressive monotone delivery and self-jabs.
Everyone else from Toby Jones’ Owl to even Peter Capaldi’s Rabbit say just enough without stealing the show. They all almost sound like they should since the 70s animated features. It’s best that way to maintain a huge level of vocal consistency while also tugging the heartstrings of the older audience.
Speaking of stuffed animals, the movie’s world acknowledges them as real beings and creatures, and people react how they would if they saw a stuffed animal come to life and wax soliloquies. It’s a cute touch.
Grin & Bear It
In any case, bring the young ones and kids for this flick. They’ll love it. If you grew up with the Disney animated iterations of the “silly old bear”, you’ll get a little teary-eyed and the feels when you see the Pooh exercise routine bit, the Hundred Acre Woods before and after, the leitmotif weaved seamlessly by composers Jon Brion and Geoff Zanelli, and the iconic sunset shots with just Christopher Robin and Winnie The Pooh.
This isn’t the most complicated or deepest all-ages film around the block, and it’s obviously manufactured and tailored in a way for older audiences who grew up with the bear. A cynical audience can spot the plot points and resolutions a mile away.
But as far as this critic is concerned, this is the only logical and emotionally-driven step for the Winnie The Pooh franchise. It could have ended up half-heartedly schmaltzy and forced, or even a tired retread ala Beauty & The Beast last year. Thankfully, that isn’t the case as this film has a handy moral about sustaining joy in a grown-up pragmatic-instilled world and workforce buried in its fluffy core.