As I was watching Disney's lovingly created, faithfully rendered Christopher Robin, Marc Forster's winningly precise World War II era drama has all the beauty yet little of the rich tapestry and authenticity of other recent offerings such as the similarly themed Goodbye, Christopher Robin and the vastly superior Paddington 2.
Christopher Robin looks sublime, but Christopher Robin doesn't feel like much of anything other than your usual Disneyified painting of a motion picture. It's a film that wants desperately to elicit the thoughts and feelings of childhood, yet it's also a film that tries its darndest to avoid those thoughts and feelings.
Christopher Robin isn't a bad film, but neither is it the film that it obviously wants to be nor is it even the film that it obviously believes it has become. It's a film that will mostly make you long for a more traditional Pooh tale or, even more likely, it is the kind of film that will make you pop in your copy of the rich and authentic and wondrous Paddington 2.
The film begins as we expect it might, a young Christopher Robin is in the fictional land of Hundred Acre Wood with his silly old bear and frizzied friends being given a going away party. It's a going party that everyone hopes won't be an actual goodbye, yet we know that Christopher Robin, played with the usual Disney earnestness by Ewan McGregor, will grow up and grow busy and grow forgetfull of what really matters in life alongside his wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell), daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael) and an employer that demands his every moment's attention.
One day, when Christopher Robin's frazzle is the frazzliest, that old familiar voice of Winnie the Pooh (voiced by Pooh veteran Jim Cummings) pops out of a tree trunk portal from Hundred Acre Wood and pops back into Christopher Robin's life. It isn't long before Tigger (also voiced by Cummings), Eeyore (Brad Garrett), Piglet (Nick Mohammed), Kanga (Sophie Okonedo), and Owl (Toby Jones) will restore themselves to their rightful places in Christopher Robin's life.
Working from a script penned by award-winning live-action vets Tom McCarthy (Spotlight), Allison Schroeder (Hidden Figures), and Alex Ross Perry (Listen Up Philip), Christopher Robin feels like a story constructed more for adults than children. While this is an approach that fairly well suits Forster's decided lack of playfulness, it leaves a rather wide chasm between the way that this Pooh tale does feel and the way that this Pooh tale ought to feel.
If you've seen the trailers for Christopher Robin, then you likely already realize that the characters have been given a different sort of physicalization, a physical representation that feels more suited to The Velveteen Rabbit than Winnie the Pooh. The characters are more frizzied, as if they are well loved stuffed creatures with vacant eyes somewhat eerily similar to the The Polar Express but not quite to that extreme. The gang still feels somewhat familiar here, yet there's a difference and it's a pronounced difference that seems to make them secondary characters in what really should have been their own stories.
It goes without saying that Forster, fronting on behalf of Disney, will tie all of this lovingly together and that Christopher Robin will have his priorities lovingly straightened out in a series of "aw shucks" kinds of ways that will feel good yet they will also feel surprisingly empty and lacking in the playfulness, childlike wonder and emotional honesty that has long defined the beloved Pooh series. What few laughs are in the film, it's a rather somber and melancholy tale, belong to Brad Garrett's Eeyore with Tigger given nary a space to spring or sprung.
Christopher Robin in many ways hits all the right notes, yet they fit together too nicely and never quite play like the song that we're longing to hear. This film looks like a Winnie the Pooh tale. This film sounds like a Winnie the Pooh tale. Christopher Robin never quite becomes a Winnie the Pooh Tale.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic