“What’s the value of espousing the creative joy that can be found in sitting back and relaxing if the movie that contains those messages feels so insipid on the whole?”
by Ken Bakely
It’s a little difficult to discern the overarching points of Marc Forster’s Christopher Robin. A considerable amount of effort has been dedicated to creating an adult life for the titular character (played as an adult by Ewan McGregor), long after he has left the denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood, gone off to war, grown into middle age, and become a workaholic who ignores his wife, Evelyn (Hayley Atwell), and daughter, Madeline (Bronte Carmichael). Of course, things become so dire that only intervention from Winnie the Pooh (voice of Jim Cummings), stepping into London to reunite with his old friend, can right Christopher’s path and help him see the virtue in family and self-care. In all of this, there are moments that work with bold clarity. Each element is established with an authenticity that thoughtfully constructs the human characters, and if you also grew up primarily with Cummings’s rendition of Pooh, you would be pleased to know that his work is every bit as good as you remember.
But in the rush to take the timelessness of the characters and give them new life, something critical gets lost in the fusion of the old and new. The conversion is rough: never quite fulfilled to its potential, and resolved on messaging that belies its firm emotional foundations and comes off as more than a little perfunctory. There’s no reason for it to be this way from the outset. The script – by Tom McCarthy, Alex Ross Perry, and Allison Schroeder – works when it recognizes the innate charm of the source material; cinematographer Matthias Koenigswieser bathes even the most drab elements of Christopher’s professional life in humanizing splashes of warm tones; and Geoff Zanelli and Jon Brion’s dreamy score compliments the more famous themes that have been associated with Disney’s interpretation of Winnie the Pooh for decades. But what we’re left with are pleasant components – from production design to performances – without all that inspired a movie to bring them together. The execution is enough to make the otherwise daring concept feel routine, with each piece left to fend for itself in proving its ingenuity to the audience.
Christopher Robin gets smothered under its own tentative tendencies, and it’s an incredibly disheartening feeling considering what the film represents as a cultural object and what it’s ostensibly about. This should be far more exciting than it is, far more filled with life and rigor to match its lessons. The film is mounted as if it were apprehensive to approach this material, somehow afraid of how its expansion of the characters will stand in comparison to their iconic stature. It’s a Winnie the Pooh tale that exists without any particular direction to take Winnie the Pooh, despite the wealth of good fortunes it has been afforded. Something fundamental gets lost in the process. By the time we get to the film’s finale – which sees Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, and Tigger journey through midcentury London, with all the disruption for passers-by and the sheer visual spectacle of that entails– it feels decidedly un-spectacular on the whole, as it comes at a point in the movie where much of the magic feels as implied as its bland implication of what this has built to.
The thing that defines Pooh as a character is his abundant sincerity and unbridled enthusiasm. Christopher Robin recognizes this when crafting the character’s interpretation for this movie, and the dynamic between McGregor’s live-action acting and Cummings’s voice acting is nothing short of endearing. However, there needs to be more than simple acknowledgment. As for the other main character, Christopher Robin is shown as having lived a complicated and difficult life, and the movie is otherwise sympathetic to all he’s been through; however, its messaging of the solutions to his ills and qualms is distantly presented, without a fraction of the heart that we would expect from an adaptation of this story. It’s an underestimation of both the franchise’s everlasting qualities and its targeted audience (the film’s more deliberate pace and measured nature indicates it’s not aimed at very little kids) to forgo richer nuances and greater exploration of its philosophy. What’s the value of espousing the creative joy that can be found in sitting back and relaxing if the movie that contains those morals feels so insipid on the whole?