Disney brings A.A. Milne’s beloved teddy bear Winnie the Pooh to life in a live-action adaptation from Finding Neverland director Marc Forster. Disney’s Christopher Robin places the childhood favorite within the framework of a fairly standard cautionary tale about the dangers of unbalanced “adulting.” Ewan McGregor stars as titular Christopher Robin (Milne’s son, and inspiration), a man who, in this imagined version of the story, abandons his whimsical friends in the Hundred Acre Wood — Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, Owl, and Rabbit – as a boy headed to boarding school. In so doing, he severs his ties with crucial elements of his own humanity: creativity, play, fun, idealism, and expressive love.
Pooh’s Magical Presence
By the time we truly connect with him again, he’s become so caught in his role as an “efficiency manager” at a luggage company (they really nailed the world’s most boring job title) that he’s in danger of losing more than his childhood friends. He stands to see his wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael) slip away. Pooh returns to Christopher’s life just in time to remind him of what is truly of value by asking the simple questions that he has forgotten to: is your briefcase more important than this balloon (joy for its own sake)? How about your daughter?
If the structure sounds familiar, it’s because it very much is. One could easily drop these story beats into any number of generic family films and they’d fit quite snugly. This is Christopher Robin’s greatest failing. That said, Forster and cast — which includes the gorgeous voice work of Jim Cummings and Brad Garrett — execute the task with enough charm and emotional vulnerability to make the all-to-familiar ride worth it. It’s appropriately Pooh’s magical presence, and his sweet, gentle wisdom that casts a spell on the viewer and draws us into what might otherwise feel like a lackluster tale. Every time he is on screen, it is electric.
Is Christopher Robin Good?
Pooh and the inhabitants of the Wood function both as metaphor, and are very much alive, and that juxtaposition carries through in the visual aesthetic and tone. Matthias Koenigswieser’s naturalistic cinematography set against some truly remarkable effects work creates a dreamlike quality that allows us to believe in these creatures. Forster moves between solemn moments and those that are filled with surprising, poetic, humor, and the pure optimism that a child’s imagination allows. In this way, he really does capture the feeling tone of childhood. The film stumbles and struggles when it focuses on the human interaction. Frankly, I’m not sure that we ought to keep repeating the message that hard work is overrated and adult jobs that aren’t creative are a prison. That said, Christopher Robin presents a world that allows space for wonder even in the mundane; now that I can get behind, and that is the gift that Pooh and his friends give.