WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
With Winnie the Pooh and the Hundred Acre Wood long behind him, Christopher Robin is now a married man with a young daughter and a steady job. As the demands of his job threaten to make him lose site of that which is most important in life, his wondrous childhood come crashing into his life once again as Pooh comes looking for Robin to help him find his missing friends.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
Winnie the Pooh is a perennial childhood favourite that somehow continues to work its magic even on today’s kids; a generation of children brought up on the instant-gratification of the latest smartphones and gaming consoles, let alone the spacey, psychedelic horrors of the Teletubbies (that’s somehow still a thing, right?) or some of Cartoon Network’s most hyperactive cartoons. And yet, the quaint, genteel and notably uneventful world that A.A. Milne and Ernest Shepard created over a century ago hasn’t just refused to go gently into that good night but has found all-new life under the Disney banner.
Christopher Robin, which does, in effect, for Winnie the Pooh what Spielberg’s Hook did for Peter Pan, attempts to challenge the idea of leaving childhood things behind by presenting an older version of our hero dulled and broken by the rigours of adult life who is in desperate need of being reacquainted with his inner child if he is to have any hope of being a happy and vital adult man. Between the undeniable validity of the inner-child as an integral part of psychology and the fact that adult life can so easily overtake even the best of us, it’s not a half bad premise.
There is a fundamental problem here, though, that ensures that, like Hook, the film just never quite comes together. The problem, simply, is that this premise is designed to resonate most strongly with adults but it’s a film that is aimed very squarely at kids; and younger kids at that. The resulting film ends up being too childish and too simplistic for adults but too alienating and boring for kids.
Even as I say this, though, it is perhaps a disservice to both kids and the film itself to assume that they’re not up for dealing with such themes – after all, Mary Poppins, which actually has a very similar message to the one here, remains an enduring children’s classic. Today’s kids, especially, whose parents are caught up in a world that is, in some respects, more hectic than ever, may well find common ground with Christopher’s young daughter, Maddie, who is pressured by her father to achieve, achieve, achieve, while often feeling neglected by him.
Even if I’m of two minds about Christopher Robin working for its target audience, though, - and, for what it’s worth, even if the film doesn’t work for kids in its entirety, I can’t imagine that younger kids, at the very least, won’t be thoroughly charmed by Pooh, Tigger, Pigglet and the rest of the denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood who are brought impressively to life in a way that works with the live-action but never lose their sense of picture-book cartoonishness – there’s another balancing act that the film attempts that is, if anything, even more precarious.
There is a very, very thin line between the genteel quaintness that is at the heart of Winnie the Pooh and dramatic inertness. These are characters, after all, whose biggest ever adventure involves finding a stray balloon. The film is so gentle and unassuming that it does constantly threaten to lull audiences to sleep. To course correct for this, director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Monster’s Ball and Quantum of Solace – clearly a man who refuses to be pigeon-holed) and his army of writers, which includes acclaimed screenwriter and author, Tom McCarthy (the Station Agent, the Visitor, Spotlight), throw in some humour and action-adventure set pieces but while the latter mostly feels perfunctory, the former is, again, far too gentle and inoffensive to actually be funny.
All this said, though, while I don’t find Christopher Robin to be anywhere near as good as something like the Paddington movies, which are far funnier, more inventive and pleasingly strange than this could ever hope to be, I did still find plenty to enjoy here. Ewan McGregor is a brilliant piece of casting as he does have that likable, boyish presence about him and the rest of the cast, both human and, well, animated plushy, are fine too. Most crucially, though, I just kind of enjoyed the overall gentleness and big-heartedness of the film – and, perhaps, a bit of the nostalgia to hearing/reading/seeing Winnie the Pooh way back when I was a kid. It did help that I wasn’t tired while watching it, though.