You wait for a Christopher Robin movie, and all of a sudden two come along at once. That’s the famous saying, isn’t it? Last year audiences were treated to Goodbye Christopher Robin, admittedly a film more about A.A. Milne than the son that he made famous, but importantly a film that took an extremely melancholy stance on the legacy that Winnie The Pooh had on the young boy’s life post childhood. This being a Disney picture, I went in expecting to be told a slightly different story, perhaps one with a glossier viewpoint and convenient artistic license taken to achieve the studio’s signature feel.
Being much more of an in universe extension to the Winnie The Pooh story than a biopic of the real life figure, Christopher Robin had the freedom to be whatever it wanted, and it just so happens to be a solid family romp that starts with a thirty minute emotional rollercoaster torturous enough to reduce even the most cynical viewer to floods of tears. Maybe I was feeling particularly sensitive that day, maybe Winnie The Pooh played a bigger part in my childhood that I even realised, but the first third of this film absolutely wrecked me. Imagine the finale of Toy Story 3 stretched out for half an hour, with a dash of Robin Williams’ Hook narrative and a pinch of Mr. Bank’s redemption arc in Mary Poppins. We witness an adult Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) wrestling with saving both his job and his family, as he is visited for the first time since childhood by his old friend Winnie The Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings). Before the fun can begin, the film almost delights in breaking you down, as Christopher and Pooh travel back to Hundred Acre Wood together to find it overgrown, dark and foggy, with none of Pooh’s familiar friends to be found.
A clear metaphor for the state of Christopher’s loss of adult imagination and sense of wonder, these sequences are incredibly tough to take, more so I suspect for a twenty eight year old like myself than a nine year old with no concept of these more mature nuances. I never thought I would have to watch an adult Christopher Robin almost a reduce a desperately hurt looking Winnie The Pooh to tears by telling him that he had forgotten about him, but Disney did it to me, and it was raw as hell.
Thankfully, after these initial emotionally destroying scenes have occurred and our protagonist has Robin Williams in Hook style recovered his youthful imagination, the film turns in to more of what I was expecting, live action japes and capers, some of which rival those in the recent Paddington series, films I believe to be the very best example of the genre of in modern times. There is a rather flimsy central plot line that compels Christopher’s young daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael) to team up with Pooh, Tigger (also Jim Cummings), Eeyore (Brad Garrett) and Piglet (Nick Mohammed) and venture in to central London to deliver something important to her father, but the narrative strength of the reasoning is completely forgiven by the magical antics that unfold as a result. There are set pieces and one liners that aren’t only ‘kids film funny’, but really, genuinely, laugh out loud funny. I went from being distraught with melancholy over a lost childhood to deliriously jolly in the space of ninety minutes, and these days it feels like Disney is the only thing that can do that to me.
Ewan McGregor does a solid job or portraying this version of Christopher Robin. It is certainly peculiar to see an actor present this in universe, Disneyfied version of the character now that one has the context of Goodbye Christopher Robin to consider, but McGregor’s characterisation works for the purpose of the story, and that is really all you can say.
The true magic of the film comes from the wonderful voice performances provided by Jim Cummings as Pooh and Tigger, Brad Garrett as Eeyore, Nick Mohammed as Piglet, and less used but just as charming and heart warming, Peter Capaldi as Rabbit, Sophie Okonedo as Kanga, Sara Sheen as Roo and Toby Jones as Owl. Jim Cummings in particular continues to amaze me with his skills, to so effortlessly take over the voice work for two iconic characters and replicate their essence perfectly, it boggles my mind.
It also has to be said that more than considerable portion of these stuffed animal characters’ charm is in the beautiful way they are rendered. There is a tangible feel to the animation, you can almost feel the textures through the screen and it adds such a level of warmth and loveliness that you don’t for a second worry about the logistics of the live action and animation working together. We’ve come a long way since the football match in Bedknobs And Broomsticks!
Overall, Christopher Robin is a film that I liked much more than I expected to. It is another example of the this trend of new Disney films that almost feel more aimed at the parents taking their young ones to see it rather than the young ones themselves. Don’t be surprised if every adult in your screening comes out weeping whilst their small companions are left completely oblivious to the wider meanings and metaphors. My experience is probably best summed up by the text that I sent to a friend immediately after leaving the cinema, “What the FuCK DISNEY you can’t keep DOING THIS TO ME I’m nearly thirty years old I have NO TEARS LEFT”.