8 out of 10
Ewan McGregor as Christopher Robin
Directed by Marc Forster
Disney’s Christopher Robin Review:
Christopher Robin will never win any prizes for originality, but the naturalistic way its magical characters are presented combined with an unerring sense of the personalities involved. It makes everyone seem and feel real even when they are stuck in the most saccharine family movie clichés. Refusing any impulse to modernize its characters (or setting), this update of the Winnie the Pooh mythos stays focused on remembering what made the character great to begin with, and reminds us as well. All that without actually being about Winnie the Pooh or having him show up until a third of the way through the film.
Christopher Robin is actually about … Christopher Robin (McGregor). Following Pooh’s childhood friend from the moment he goes off to boarding school to his post-war career as an office drudge at a luggage maker, Robin has become thoroughly trapped in adult life. So trapped that he’s pushing his wife (Atwell) and daughter away as he focuses all his effort on securing some vague future at the expense of the now. Left alone for a holiday weekend in order to work on an all-consuming work project, Robin is instead subjected to a surprising visit by his lonely best friend and the childhood he’d thought he’d left behind.
As set ups go, it’s not the best. The road director Mark Forster (World War Z) is traveling on is well-worn with every sign post and sharp turn visible miles and miles ahead. And yet, though it is claimed very often and true very seldom, the journey truly is the best part of Christopher Robin. The journey with Pooh, at any rate, because what’s great about the film (main character not withstanding) has always been great about Winnie the Pooh, the kindly warmth and light hearted fun at its center. Pooh and friends could have been hideously outdated, or worse updated (think Smurfs or Peter Rabbit), but as presented are neither. They are as they have always been and yet still easily recognizable and understandable. As an added bonus, Matthia Koenigswieser’s naturalistic photography (and some superior effects work) has imbued them with the kind of reality imaginary characters need but seldom have. They’ve also got some honest-to-goodness hilarious jokes. Brad Garrett’s Eeyore is an incredible scene stealer; every punchline he’s given lands.
They’re so good that it’s easy to forget, after the fact, that they don’t really show up in force until about halfway through the film. That all belongs to Ewan McGregor who turns the charm on full blast to keep us involved while all the dreary set-up work is done. It mostly works, too, even when he’s forced to do some unbearably twee stuff.
The film never finds a simplistic aphorism it doesn’t love … to death. “I often find doing nothing can lead to a real something,” and the like. Pooh has always spoken this way and in small doses its part of his charm, especially counter-pointed with his bumbling good-naturedness. He’s the accidental Buddah (or is it an accident?). If it were just occasional it would probably be fine; the first time you hear one it sounds like it may be sort of profound or at least pleasingly elliptical. But the more it is repeated the more you are forced (nay, required) to ask – “what on Earth does that mean?” Christopher Robin can’t help repeat its koans over and over and over again every five minutes or so on the off chance the audience has short-term retrograde amnesia and can’t sustain anything which isn’t drilled into them.
Nor is the plot, Pooh and company aside, any great shakes. Christopher’s decent into humdrum adult life and realization of what he’s lost (or almost lost) is just about the most done-to-death family film story there is. But one man’s hideous cliché is another’s tried and true masterpiece so we’re getting it again, like it or not. This is Forster at his Finding Neverland best, only with less melodramatic death and far more melodramatic family friendly midlife crisis. Which means there is almost nothing surprising within Christopher Robin, leaving it entirely up to the cast to maintain interest. For the most part they pull it off. Sure, it takes no risks, but what it sets out to do – warm the heart and cheer the soul – it does well.