Review: ‘Christopher Robin’

In a few words: Lovely, funny, winning. I’m not a Pooh-head, but I like the approach taken here. Good for kids and adults.

dfn-christopher_robin-300Sometime in my youth (i.e. the 60s), I remember watching Winnie the Pooh in animated form on television, with the wonderfully crinkly voice of Sterling Holloway as the bear come to life in the company of the boy Christopher Robin. I don’t recall being particularly enthralled by those memories, but I confess that hearing Jim Cummings doing a modern interpretation as Pooh made me misty-eyed, especially when he interacts for the first time with Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) as an adult.

Prior to that moment, Christopher Robin, based on the characters created by A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard, feel quite glum, a perfect reflection of the post-World War II life experienced by the titular Christopher, an adult who is a responsible type. After leaving behind his stuffed animals, who came to life in what he called the Hundred Acre Wood, young Christopher went off to boarding school, grew up, met and married Evelyn (Hayley Atwell), became father to Madeline (Bronte Carmichael), and began climbing the ladder at the Winslow Luggage Company.

Christopher, however, has allowed his work to take priority over his family for years, to a point of frustration and sadness for all three of them. Now a planned weekend family trip has been scotched because Christopher has been compelled to work yet again. This time, efficiency manager Christopher has been ordered by his boss, Giles Winslow (Mark Gatiss), to reduce expenses by 20% or else the entire company may be shut down, costing everyone their jobs.

Meanwhile, Winnie the Pooh has awakened in the Hundred Acre Word after a long sleep. He cannot find any of his friends, such as Eeyore (voiced by Brad Garrett), Piglet (voiced by Nick Mohammed), Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), Kanga (Sophie Okonedo), Roo (Sara Sheen) or Owl (Toby Jones). What is he to do?

Of course! Pooh heads off a grand adventure to find his friends by helping Christopher Robin to rediscover his lost sense of fun and play.

Once Christopher and Pooh reunite, the generally glum atmosphere begins to lift, though it feels ever so slow. There is a method in mind behind the pace, however, because once it starts to life, the pace accelerates and the lighting grows brighter as well.

Marc Forster is known as a journeyman director, first gaining notice for the gritty drama Monster’s Ball, followed by Finding Neverland, and including Stay (also starring Ewan McGregor), Stranger Than Fiction (which I quite enjoyed), Quantum of Solace (a rather disappointing James Bond adventure), World War Z (an ambitious and ultimately satisfying zombie picture) and, most recently, All I See Is You.

I’ve only seen three of his films before this one, so I can’t draw any conclusions, but Christopher Robin very much feels like its own animal; a cloud that threatens to drown everyone under its spell before gradually opening up to a more benevolent, open-hearted story. At the center stands Ewan McGregor, who interacts quite convincingly with the stuffed animals come to life, who themselves are incredibly detailed and believable works of animated art, voiced by talented actors.

The film won’t change any adult’s life, but it sits comfortably next to David Lowery’s Pete’s Dragon as the other kind of Disney live-action adaptation, the kind that’s aimed at all-ages audiences yet still envisioned with more than a modicum of good taste and intelligence.

Christopher Robin is now playing in theaters throughout Dallas and Fort Worth; I attended a public screening at the Alamo Drafthouse in Lake Highlands, which featured good picture and sound.