Christopher Robin (2018)

Sooner or later, your past catches up to you.

Towards the end of last year, 20th Century Fox released Goodbye Christopher Robin, a heart-breaking film that looked at the behind-the-scenes drama of A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh — namely, the way in which Milne exploited his young son, Christopher Robin’s imagination and playtime. After watching that film, it became very hard to see the brave young Robin and his cuddly honey-loving bear in the same way again. Perhaps it was in light of this that Walt Disney Pictures have now given us Christopher Robin, a film that acts as a bit of a missing final chapter in the Winnie the Pooh series and a kind of reinterpretation of the central idea of fatherhood at the heart of Fox’s Goodbye Christopher Robin.

‘Pooh, is that you?’

After a brief prologue, in which a young Christopher Robin (Orton O’Brien) says farewell to his childhood toy/ friend Winnie the Pooh (long-time voice of Disney’s Pooh and Tigger, Jim Cummings), before heading off to boarding school, a montage reveals that although the yellow bear waits patiently for his friend’s return, Christopher Robin slowly but surely forgets about his adventures in the enchanted Hundred Acre Wood.

Some years later, we cut to a grown-up Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor), who’s now a war veteran working as an efficiency expert in an underperforming luggage company, Winslow Luggage. He’s also married to an architect named Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and become a father to a young daughter whom he loves, Madeline (Bronte Carmichael). When Christopher Robin is hit with a last-minute business proposal that could save Winslow Luggage (and its staff) — assigned to him by his self-serving boss Giles Winslow Jr. (Mark Gatiss) — he finds himself skipping a family getaway at countryside cottage in Sussex, much to the disappointment of Madeline.

Back at the Hundred Acre Wood, Pooh awakens with a ‘rumbly tumbly,’ only to realize that he’s run out of honey. Believing that Christopher Robin would know what to do, Pooh makes his way to London via walking through a magical tree. There, a shocked Christopher Robin attempts to get rid of him. Alas, things don’t go according to plan, with Robin soon finding himself back at the ol’ stomping ground, where he’s reunited with his old simple-minded pals — the pessimistic donkey Eeyore (Brad Garrett), bouncing tiger Tigger (also Jim Cummings), teeny-tiny toy pig Piglet (Nick Mohammed), plush kangaroo Kanga (Sophie Okonedo) and her daughter Roo (Sara Sheen), Owl (Toby Jones) and Rabbit (Peter Capaldi) — this encounter challenging our middle-aged protagonist to reflect on where he’s been, who he (now) is, and the future he wants to create with his family.

Life can be sunny with friends and honey!

Gorgeously shot on film by Matthias Königswieser, All I See Is You (2016), Christopher Robin sports a melancholy ’40s era production design by Jennifer Williams, The Amityville Horror (2005), and solid character work by Michael Kutsche, Thor: Ragnarok (2017), the CG puppets blending effortlessly into their surroundings; bar the exception of Rabbit and Owl (who intentionally appear more flesh and blood than stuffed toy), the VFX truly had me convinced that I was actually watching walking, talking plush toys come to life. Tigger looks a little tattered and worn-out, but they’re otherwise quite faithful to their treasured looks of old.

Making a welcome return to family dramas is director Marc Forster, who’s wasted a good amount of time helming mediocre action flicks such as Quantum of Solace (2008), Machine Gun Preacher (2011) and World War Z (2013), these representing a complete 360 from his otherwise patient filmmaking. Forster’s 2004 film Finding Neverland, however, still ranks highly in my books as a golden example of what family dramas should strive to be, and it’s a shame that his action offerings didn’t quite wring out the attention to theme and character that he’d demonstrated previously.

Although Forster returns to a more gentle style here, we don’t quite get a homerun unfortunately, the script not really providing a solid enough basing. With a weird combo of screenwriters at the helm — indie filmmakers Alex Ross Perry, Listen Up Philip (2014), and Tom McCarthy, Spotlight (2015), along with recent hit writer Allison Schroeder, Hidden Figures (2016) — I couldn’t help but wonder whether this trio of scribes had radically different ideas on who the intended audience was supposed to be and what that meant for the development of characters, motifs and pacing. What we ultimately get is an uncertain tone, followed by characters that are more pronounced in their idiosyncrasies to the point where they’re sometimes uncomfortable or, in the case of the adult Christopher Robin, so hurtfully removed from the very core of who they once were.

Practice makes Pooh-fect!

Take Eeyore, for example, a character who, although he’s always been lonely and sad, has never quite been portrayed as clinically depressed and suicidal. A scene played for mild chuckles sees Eeyore carelessly floating down a stream, having totally given up on life, ready to be taken by a waterfall. Of course he doesn’t go over, being saved at the last minute by Christopher Robin, but the fact is the character was so otherwise committed to his demise, that (even after being rescued) it becomes a very hard thing to accept about his personality.

Now, when it comes to the titular Christopher Robin, while I understand that by narrative design, he had to be removed from his younger, more positive self in order to rediscover that side, it’s a bit upsetting to watch him chastise Pooh and company for most of the film, let alone interact coldly with his own daughter. This stern portrayal very much echoed Domhnall Gleeson’s take on A.A. Milne in Goodbye Christopher Robin — like father, like fictionalized son, perhaps?

Of the more progressive things that the marketing promised and delivers, albeit in a race to the climax, is getting the furry group of kooks out of the woods and into the big bustling city. To my knowledge, this hasn’t happened before in any of the Pooh stories and while more could’ve been done within this portion (what we get are some pretty generic gags involving freaked out observers), it’s fun enough while it lasts.

‘If anyone wants to clap, now is the time to do it.’

All in all, I feel that Christopher Robin works best for adults that have grown up with the Winnie the Pooh gang and still have a ‘young at heart’ spirit about them — the movie mostly speaks to this bunch. Kids under 8 years of age are likely to get bored in stretches where the fluffy cast aren’t on-screen and frustrated when there isn’t enough comedy. Although it is advertised as a family-friendly film with a mild G rating to boot, it’d take a particular kind of family group to truly accept and enjoy this movie all together as a unit.

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by Steve Ramsie

Christopher Robin is released through Disney Australia