Winnie the Pooh and the whole gang from the Hundred Acre Wood are back in Disney’s latest reimagining of a classic story, Christopher Robin. I grew up watching some Winnie the Pooh and I’m familiar with the characters so it’s fun to see the characters brought back to life. This time around Disney seemed to take a more adult route with its story. Christopher Robin is less about adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood and more about losing your childhood as you get older. This is not a new theme for Disney but it is a successful one because it is something that both kids and adults can find interesting. Kids can look at it as a cautionary tale and adults can look at it in a more reflective way. That makes it a clever way to reimagine this story but the real question is; does it work? I’d say, sort of.
The first thing that jumps out about Christopher Robin is its tone. The first half of the film (maybe even a touch longer) is incredibly solemn. This tone comes as a bit of a surprise because it isn’t one we equate with Disney films. It is a set up for much cheerier things to come and in that sense it works, but the problem is that it lasted far too long. After Christopher Robin leaves the hundred-acre wood, he settles into being an adult. The boring, monotonous lifestyle of working too hard at a job that he doesn’t love takes a toll on him and his family. While he’s trying to create the best life for his family, he is simultaneously neglecting them in the process. Not only that, he seems to have lost all of the childlike fun and imagination that he once had. Throw in a war; the death of his father and being sent to a boarding school and it makes sense as to why he is this way. It also makes for a near depressing segment of the film. While this is an interesting story and certainly works for what the writers were trying to accomplish, it stretched on for too long. This solemn tone seemed never ending and fully encompassing. After a while it starts to weigh on you and makes the film hard to watch.
Ewan McGregor (Christopher Robin) gives a solid performance throughout the film. He plays the part of a “Scrooge” well and was also able to flip the switch to help bring the joy that the second half brings. If the first half of the film felt like Eeyore wrote it then Tigger definitely wrote the second half. Pooh ends up in London and convinces Christopher Robin to come back to the Hundred Acre Wood to look for his lost friends. While there, Christopher Robin loses Pooh but finds his friends and really himself. It’s here where we can see what this film’s potential. From him fighting the Heffalump to the race through London, the second half of the film is full of adventure and fun. The humor shines through a bit more, it feels sweeter and the whole film turns around. This is what this film should have been, a fun and sweet adventure. Even though part of the reason the second half works so well is because it pays off what is set up earlier, getting here sooner would have made it a more enjoyable watch. A fun Christopher Robin with all of the characters from the hundred-acre wood is a good time and when we got that we also got a very enjoyable film.
As good as the second half of the film was, it didn’t cover up all of the mistakes from earlier in the film. Along with the tone issues, director Marc Foster had some issues with pacing. Not only did the first half of the film feel a bit depressing, it felt long, which heightened the tone. It made for an uneven experience because the first half felt like a slog and the second half flew by. It wasn’t enough to ruin the experience because we were pulled out of it, so it ended up not being all that bad. However, the under utilized Hayley Atwell (Evelyn Robin) is that bad. I understand that this story isn’t about her and I understand that I may be bias because I am a huge fan of hers, but she is hardly used in this film. She appears to be nothing more than a consequence for Christopher Robin’s actions. When he’s being terrible, she’s sad which in turn makes us sad. When he makes it all right, she’s happy which in turn makes us happy. That is all that she is, there was no depth at all. This is not at all an indictment of her performance because even on the page she seems to be an afterthought. The film makes a big deal about Christopher Robin’s daughter, Madeline (played wonderfully by Bronte Carmichael), but doesn’t do much in the way of Evelyn. There is a big moment when Christopher Robin apologizes to Madeline for, essentially being a bad dad, but we never get that with Evelyn. They just make up with no real acknowledgment as to what happened between them. It’s frustrating because Atwell is an incredible performer and she could have brought a lot more to the film, but it never allows the time or space for that to happen.
Even though there were a few things to dislike about Christopher Robin there was also a lot to like. The character animation is one of those things. I am a huge fan of the way these characters were brought to life on screen. It was clever to have them be a mix of the Disney animation version and the classic version from A.A. Milne’s stories. Each of the animals felt both real and magical in way that I can only describe as special. It’s a fine balance that has to be managed because if this is done wrong they look creepy and could scare kids. Instead they all come across very cute and ended up being the highlight of the film for me.
Overall the film worked for me, not as much as I would have liked but it did come together in the end. There is so much heart in this film that it overcomes the solemn set up to get there. The characters from the Hundred Acre Wood brought life to the film and reminded me of the joy I had with them as a kid. Towards the end of the film I was also reminded what this film is actually all about. When Tigger meets Madeline and sings his song explaining what he is, a little girl in my theater was bouncing in her seat, clapping and singing along. At one point in time we were all that little girl, and Disney was able to capture that magic again by bringing it to life in a way that will touch a whole new generation. Disney may not have gotten it all right, but they got that part right and in the end that’s the most important.
3 out 5 stars
Director: Marc Foster Writers: Alex Ross Perry, Tom McCarthy, Allison Schroeder, Greg Brooker & Mark Steven Johnson, based on characters created by A.A. Milne & Ernest Shepard Starring: Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael & Mark Gatiss Release Date: August 3rd Rated: PG Runtime: 1 hour and 44 minutes Image Credit: Imdb via Disney