(2018—Director: Marc Forster)
— by Renard N. Bansale —
(out of 5 stars)
Potential spoilers below
I first encountered Winnie the Pooh, the famous anthropomorphic teddy bear created by author A.A. Milne and first illustrated by E.H. Shepard, through reruns of the Disney Saturday morning cartoon The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. That show became a staple of my early childhood. Nostalgia for the lovable teddy bear grew when, in 2011, Disney released a Winnie the Pooh theatrical feature. The 63-minute film featured gorgeous hand-drawn animation and songs by Zooey Deschanel (working with frequent collaborator M. Ward) and future Frozen composers Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. On the downside, it still frustrates me that Disney chose to release Winnie the Pooh the same weekend as the last Harry Potter movie, stunting its commercial success and effectively ending all hope for a traditional animation resurgence at Disney.
As such, the live-action continuation Christopher Robin strikes me as an odd new direction for Disney’s Winnie the Pooh franchise. The endearing toy animals are animated and voiced well in a live-action environment and Ewan McGregor provides a sturdy presence with his past experience in nostalgia-centered projects. The compressed and slightly under-rousing plot, however, hint at a certain apprehension from the Mouse House powers that be.
Not the best first step for Disney if they plan to further this franchise and recover from their 2011 stumble.
Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) has come a long way from his adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood. Now a family man, the demands of Robin’s job as the efficiency manager at Winslow Luggages in London have led him to neglect his wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwood) and his studious yet somewhat sheltered daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael). Robin’s boss, Giles Winslow, Jr. (Mark Gatiss, detestably smug), tasks him to coordinate substantial company cutbacks over the weekend. Robin has no choice but to miss a much-needed family outing to the countryside cottage of his youth before Madeline begins school.
The last thing Christopher Robin expects while inundated with work is a surprise visit from Winnie the Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings), his stuffed teddy bear and childhood pal. Much less is Robin expecting to escort Pooh back to scour the now-gray and foggy Hundred Acre Wood for fellow friends Tigger (also voiced by Cummings), Eeyore (voiced by Brad Garrett), Owl (voiced by Toby Jones), Piglett (voiced by Nick Mohammed), Rabbit (voiced by Peter Capaldi), Kanga (voiced by Sophie Okonedo), and Roo (voiced by Sara Sheen).
“What to do, what to do, what to do?” sighs Christopher Robin, slumping onto a bench in the small park outside his house.
“What to do, indeed.”
And there he is. Silly old bear.
For what it is, Christopher Robin is a compact fantasy dramedy, ideal for a family taking it easy on a Sunday afternoon. Visual effects supervisor Chris Lawrence and animation supervisor Michael Eames harness the latest technologies to honor the old by combining the current Disney designs of the Hundred Acre Woods characters (dating back to the Slesinger ownership era) with those in the Shepard illustrations. Of course, the voices make or break the characters and everyone here fits, with Jim Cummings continuing his full-time tenure as both Pooh and Tigger. Drawing the most laughs here is Brad Garrett’s turn as Eeyore (“Help me.”). Garrett is a natural at voicing the depressive stuffed donkey, even though he had only voiced him twice before in late ‘90s computer programs. (Veteran animator Bud Luckey, who voiced Eeyore in the 2011 film, passed away this past February. Gregg Berger remains Eeyore’s voice in video games. Peter Cullen, who has voiced the donkey since 1988, will cameo as Eeyore in the upcoming Ralph Breaks the Internet while focusing on voicing Optimus Prime, whom he has voiced since 1984, in the upcoming Bumblebee.)
Between this, last year’s T2 Trainspotting (see previous mentions here), Big Fish, Moulin Rouge!, and playing Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels, Ewan McGregor seems to have cornered the market lately in terms of big-screen projects involving nostalgia. The Scottish actor is no child in a man’s body, yet he conveys so well that reluctance of letting go and moving on from juvenile recreations and reveries. McGregor’s rendition of Christopher Robin makes great use of this talent, despite the role’s underdeveloped execution, the script’s reliance on McGregor to prop up a condensed second act in the Hundred Acre Wood and a hasty third act back in London, and the limited opportunities for McGregor to interact with Hayley Atwell’s Evelyn. Atwell’s application of a caustic attitude toward a workaholic husband is the one pinch of spice in her standard dutiful wife role.
If Disney seeks to return to the grounded innocence of the Milne’s original works, then I am all for it. Disney will have to deliver more than this heartfelt, compact, yet safe adventure next time around, though. I doubt a new small-screen series can do what revisiting a past completed series already can. Therefore, Disney ought to use their abundant means to catch up and match the recent live action Paddington movies—that is, if the Mouse House wants audiences to see more of Christopher Robin, Winnie the Pooh, and their friends in a live-action setting.
God forbid this intended reunion ends up leading to an even longer screen exile from the Hundred Acre Wood.
(Parental Note: Christopher Robin has been rated PG by the MPAA “for some action”. It has also been rated PG by the BBFC for “mild threat” and “brief war violence”, and rated A-II (Adults and adolescents) by the Catholic News Service for containing “a mature story line and nonviolent action.”)
P.S. Be sure to stay for the mid-credits beach scene, which features a piano ditty by the venerable Richard M. Sherman.
Renard N. Bansale once aspired to become an astronaut, before he found his passion in film discussion, criticism, conducting script-reading sessions of feature film screenplays, and annual Oscar tracking. Hailing from Seattle, WA, Renard graduated from JPCatholic in 2016 with a B.S. in Communications Media (Emphasis in Screenwriting) and is currently pursuing his M.A. in Theology online at the Augustine Institute.
For more movie reviews by Renard, click here.