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Review: Christopher Robin

August 3, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Deep in the Hundred Acre Wood, where Christopher Robin plays, you will find the enchanted neighbourhood, of Christopher’s childhood days…

These song lyrics, etched into my mind from the many, many times I heard them as a kid, took on even deeper meaning for me when I was watching Christopher Robin at a screening a couple of weeks ago.

The new film serves to tell a wonderful story that finds the title character’s stuffed animal friends from childhood returning to him as an adult in order to help him rediscover what is important in his life, with delightful and slightly melancholic results.

This is Disney’s latest live action update to one of their beloved animated properties, and also one of their best. The film doesn’t serve as a mere remake of their 1977 anthology film The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, or any of their other animated films featuring the loveable teddy bear, but it rather functions as a sequel of sorts that lovingly reimagines A.A. Milne’s classic characters in a live action setting.

The film opens with a very tender and bittersweet prologue in which we see Christopher as a young boy (Orton O’Brien), having to say goodbye to his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood before being sent to boarding school. This nicely sets the tone for the rest of the film, as our focus shifts to Christopher as an adult (Ewan McGregor) in London, too preoccupied with his work at a luggage company to spend time with his wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and their young daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael).

When Evelyn and Madeline go away to the cottage for the weekend, and Christopher is forced to stay behind after his boss Giles Winslow (Mark Gatiss) insists that he work overtime to find inefficiencies in the company, he is visited by his old friend Winnie the Pooh (Jim Cummings). Pooh ventures out of the Hundred Acre Wood in search of some hunny, and also needs help locating his other friends – Piglet (Nick Mohammed), Tigger (Jim Cummings), Eeyore (Brad Garrett), Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), Owl (Toby Jones), Kanga (Sophie Okonedo) and Roo (Sara Sheen) – who have all disappeared following a storm, which has made things quite gloomy in the enchanted woods.

I don’t want to reveal any more of what happens in the story, because there is a very gentle quality to Christopher Robin that makes it delightful to just watch unfold and let wash over you. This is a sweet and immensely charming film that very much does justice to A.A. Milne’s classic characters and really gets to the heart of what his stories were always about, built around an excellent and surprisingly textured performance from Ewan McGregor who has great chemistry with Pooh and his friends.

Directed by Marc Forster, overseeing a beautifully crafted production that seamlessly mixes the live action and animated elements, the film manages to capture the feel of Classic Pooh with impressive accuracy. Because the story takes place in the 1950s, Pooh and his friends have been closely modelled after E.H. Shepard’s original illustrations. These classic designs give them the look and feel of well-loved stuffed animals, (save for Rabbit and Owl who are depicted as real animals), and also allow them to fit in very well with the period setting.

Being a Disney film, Christopher Robin also pays great tribute to how the studio has portrayed these characters over the years. The film utilizes the familiar chapter headings and ink drawings that were prevalent in the animated films to help move its story along, and also features a lovely musical score by Jon Brion and Geoff Zanelli that incorporates elements of the classic songs by Robert and Richard Sherman. These instantly recognizable musical cues are enough to elicit feelings of nostalgia that are sure to warm even the coldest of hearts.

The film’s screenplay – credited to Alex Ross Perry, Tom McCarthy and Allison Schroeder – tells a simple yet always engaging story, and is filled with many classic “Poohisms” that are profound in their simplicity. “People say that nothing is impossible,” Pooh muses at one point, adding “but I do nothing every day.” The film also has a deep understanding of the fact that each of the animal characters is meant to represent an aspect of Christopher Robin’s own life.

This was perhaps one of the most ingenious elements of A.A. Milne’s original books, with them all acting like subsets of the boy’s personality. For example, Pooh is “a bear of very little brain” who represents optimism and pure heart, where as Piglet is a sort of agreeable creature who also represents anxiety and fear. Tigger is obviously a representation of hyperactivity and unbridled spontaneity, where as Eeyore is representative of feeling blue and being scared to try new things, etc.

The most important aspect of this film is that it doesn’t change any of their personalities, and is able to use them within the narrative to draw some clever parallels with Christopher Robin’s adult life. Pooh is able to help Christopher get back in touch with the sense of discovery and finding joy in little moments that is paramount to being a kid, but many of us lose when we become adults. It is only by going back to the Hundred Acre Wood that he is able to not only rediscover what is important in his own life, but he must also rediscover his own childhood in order to best raise his own daughter.

It’s only in allowing himself to rediscover these aspects of himself through these manifestations of his childhood that Christopher Robin is able to rebalance his life as an adult, and this idea is one of the most moving aspects of the film. For anyone who grew up with Winnie the Pooh, I think there is something magical about seeing the characters reimagined in this way, and Christopher Robin manages to tell a touching and emotionally resonant story that is sure to resonate with both kids and adults.

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