3 out of 5 stars.
Many of us have likely grown up on “Winnie the Pooh,” whether in the original stories by A.A. Milne or, more likely, the Disney animated films. There’s something wonderfully old-fashioned about them, a trait that the Walt Disney Studios and director Marc Forester combine with a heavy dose of reality hitherto unseen in the series in the new live-action/animated film “Christopher Robin.”
The focus of this film is, as the title implies, less on Winnie the Pooh and his friends from the Hundred Acre Wood and more on Christopher Robin, the human child who befriends them. The movie opens with young Christopher visiting his friends for the last time before going off to boarding school. Pooh is afraid that he will forget about him, and Christopher reassures him that he will not, but life turns out to be less simple outside of the Hundred Acre Wood. A beautiful and moving montage takes us through the next few decades of Christopher’s life, as he has a rough time at school, deals with family tragedy, falls in love and gets married, and goes off to fight in World War II. The story resumes after the war, where we see Christopher (played by Ewan McGregor) working a demanding job as an efficiency manager for a luggage company. His work as taken over his life, causing him to neglect his wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and young daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael), who he also wants to send off to boarding school. When his boss (played by the wonderfully slimy Mark Gatiss) tasks him with working over the weekend to find a way for the company to cut costs, it forces Christopher to send his family off on holiday without him—and also brings him back into contact with Winnie the Pooh, who he hasn’t seen since he was a child.
This isn’t the Christopher that Pooh remembers, however. Christopher has completely forgotten what it was like to be a child and have fun, and he doesn’t have the time or patience to deal with Pooh’s easy-going and meandering nature. But through reluctantly helping Pooh search for his missing friends and avoid the Heffalumps and Woozles, he comes to rediscover the joy in life and reconnect with his family. It isn’t a story we haven’t heard before, but it is one that many people can relate to. Pooh and friends never change throughout this movie; they are exactly the same as we remember them from previous adaptations. It’s the fact that they remain a constant, comforting presence that effects change in Christopher Robin, and provokes nostalgia in the audience. There’s something amusing but also touching about Pooh’s simplistic take on the most complicated of matters, a reminder that life need not be so hard and stressful.
A lot of that nostalgia also stems from the way the characters are presented in the story. The film takes inspiration both from Milne’s stories and from the Disney cartoons in shaping its look and story. Pooh and his friends traditionally are stuffed animals, and that is how they are portrayed here, with a touch of their traditional Disney appearance thrown in, and they’re utterly charming to watch. At the same time, Owl and Rabbit are made to look like real animals, as they are in the books. The original Winnie the Pooh themes by the Sherman brothers appear in the score, and there are loads of quotes and little snippets of scenes that those familiar with these stories will surely recognize, like Pooh doing his exercises. And while the human actors do a fine job, the voice actors are the real star of the show. Jim Cummings, who has been voicing Pooh and Tigger for Disney for almost 20 years now, voices both of those characters in this film, and it’s a joy to watch and listen to such a familiar voice bringing these new incarnations of these characters to life. Other voices include Brad Garrett as Eeyore, Peter Capaldi as Rabbit, Nick Mohammad as Piglet, and Toby Jones as Owl.
But the fact that these characters are by far the best part of a film that is supposed to be about Christopher Robin and his family is the problem. The film is entertaining enough at the start, but as a harried Christopher wanders about either with or in search of Pooh, it becomes increasingly tedious. Ultimately, the film builds to a climax that isn’t particularly exciting, and resolves its conflict rather conveniently. Slow as the overall film often feels, there are several scenes in the film that are moving all on their own, without any context, like Christopher and Pooh sitting on a log in the Hundred Acre Wood, arms around each other. This isn’t so much a movie for kids as it is a movie for adults who watched or read Winnie the Pooh when they were kids. We could certainly use more stories the Hundred Acre Wood these days. But perhaps, looking at what works in this film and what doesn’t, those stories need to center more around Pooh and friends.
Runtime: 104 minutes. Rated PG.