In Disney’s “Christopher Robin,” the young boy of the stories has grown up and ends up overcoming some very adult problems with the help of his childhood playtime friends – including the stuffed with fluff one – Winnie The Pooh Bear. Director Marc Forester (Finding Neverland) led the creative update to the characters created by A.A. Milne and brought to the big screen by Walt Disney Animation. The film feels old and Capraesque and there is a heavy dose of nostalgia to boot.
The acting prowess of Ewan McGregor (Star Wars, Trainspotting) is a big reason to see the movie. McGregor shows his remarkable range in the title role. Adult Robin is in a fog most of his life, an efficiency expert for a luxury luggage company, who can’t figure out how to find time to spend with his family. When his encounter with Pooh frees him up to return to the creativity of his childhood playtime McGregor is able to summon up an excited inner child one would expect when their imaginary playthings turn out to have been real after all.
Speaking of the playthings, the beloved Pooh characters are performed admirably by some legendary voice actors. Jim Cummings returns to voice Pooh and Tigger, Brad Garret is excellent at being the grumpy, cynical Eeyore. Piglet is voiced by Nick Mohammed and portrayed as even more skittish than you might remember from Disney’s movies. Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), Kanga (Sophie Okonedo), Roo (Sara Sheen), and Owl (Toby Jones) don’t get quite as much screen time, as is often true for their characters. But their voices all ringed true to me.
Robin’s wife Evelyn is played by Hayley Atwell. Evelyn spends a good portion of the movie wondering what happened to the man she married and not quite sure how to proceed, except to make sure their daughter Madeline (played by nine-year-old Bronte Carmichael) gets some well deserved family time. Madeline reminds me a lot of Mara Wilson from the movie Matilda. Her sense of wonder is buried under all the school work, it just takes a little coaxing to bring it out.
This is the first time Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, and all his pals appear in a live-actin film as three-dimensional characters. Actual stuffed animals were used on set to set up each scene, then digital characters were brought to life via photo-realistic computer animation. This was one of the most successful elements of the movie for me.
They don’t make many films like this anymore (maybe for good reason). The lead role might just have been played by James Stewart, Cary Grant, or Fred MacMurray (except the British equivalents, obviously). Men who devote their lives to making a career to support a family and somehow lose the family along the way.
Disney has asked that we not give away much of the plot, a request I’ll honor here. I will say I wish I had better things to say about the rest of first half of the film. Once Christopher Robin gets back from World War II and starts a family, the pace and mood of the film slows down and drags on. By the time Pooh appears on screen again the audience leans into the screen for some much anticipated relief.
When Winnie is on screen the mood in the theater lifts and when the rest of the Hundred Acre Wood creatures are around it lifts even more. Unfortunately, the breakthrough we all know is coming for Robin is not arrived at smoothly. There’s a whole lot of running around on trains, bikes, cars, trucks without much purpose. That could have been tightened up a lot allowing for more development of the family recovery.
The whole movie relies on an audience member’s willingness to buy into the magical realism. For kids, this likely won’t be a problem. For adults, well, it depends on how much of your childhood imagination you’re able to draw up.
More than most Disney movies as of late, Christopher Robin wears its lessons on its sleeve: Work hard, but value family and making cherished memories more; something great often comes from doing nothing; and creativity is usually required to solve life’s problems, so don’t suppress it in yourself or your child.
Disney’s “Christopher Robin” is now playing in theaters in the US and Canada. Rated PG for some action.