In Disney’s Christopher Robin, audiences are asked to accept the concept that a talking teddy bear can save a man in the midst of a family-turn mid-life crisis. Is such a magic trick able to be produced? Can the cynical creatures of today’s movie going landscape believe such a tale coming from the very corporate House of Mouse? Director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland) seems to think so, and for the most part, you can also count me in with the “dreamers”.
Beginning where the classic book Pooh Corner left off, we see the titular hero (wonderfully played in his adult years by Ewan McGregor) shift from a innocent young lad, into a “heffalump” corporate focused father. In the process, we meet his future wife (Hayley Atwell) and see the minimal relationship Christopher has with his daughter, Madeline (portrayed by newcomer, Bronte Carmichael.) This all adds up to one mathematical equation – Christopher is losing his family (while also struggling at work) and needs a reminder of what made his childhood magical.
Such a solution comes in the form of a “silly old bear” and the other residents of the 100 Acre Wood – who are brought to life in brilliant fashion by various technical wizards (including the artists at Framestore.) Every tuft of hair, piling of fabric, and stain of honey is not missed on these cuddly creatures – never making you second guess for an instant their organic existence. Couple that with the excellent vocal performances of the legendary Jim Cummings (both Pooh and Tigger), along with fan favorites such as Brad Garrett as Eeyore, Peter Capaldi as Rabbit, and Toby Jones as Owl, and you’ve got cinematic magic at its finest.
But what might not be so magical to viewers is Christopher Robin‘s particular brand of storytelling. The film often seems a product of a bygone, almost TCM approved era – not just in the plot’s actual setting, but in the risky decision it takes to tell this very predictable tale in the softest and slowest of ways.
From the cinematography, to the pacing that doesn’t “pick up” in the traditional sense till the second act, much of what Forster offers family audiences is something that goes against the loud and colorful nature of most 2018 “kid flicks”. There aren’t any bathroom related or “low bro” jokes, nor is there a rush to get us to the 100 Acre Wood. Instead, Forster refuses to ignore his charming, quiet touches as a director, and gives the typical Disney live action brand a much more subdued and Downton Abbey friendly palette.
Many critics have questioned whether this is a smart move from the House of Mouse to even make a movie like this for a theatrical release – noting that children will likely be bored by the film’s moments of focusing on Christopher’s past, and his business ventures in the luggage making industry. Yet, coming from the perspective of a Hook generation child – it all depends on the glasses for which you view Christopher Robin from.
As a child, I loved the strong physical comedy of Robin Williams, the magic of the Neverland landscape, and of course, Rufio. But as an adult, I continuously return to Hook time and time again because of the emotional journey that Peter takes, coming to terms with his humanity and what ultimately is his “happy thought”, aka his reason to continue on the adventure that is life. Christopher Robin might not have that same deep exploration of a nostalgic hero’s adult transformation, but 20 years later, could have the same effect on film goers.
Is Christopher Robin an inventive piece of cinema by any means? No. Does it have the potential to leave a bit of imaginative spark in your eye? Absolutely. And maybe that is what Forster was aiming for. Regardless of our age, we need to remember how incredible the simple act of playing outside and letting our minds free can be – especially in a time where it is hard to guarantee what the next day will bring. Stop, and smell the honey – for Pooh would want you want to.