As children, all we ever want to do is grow up. We’re told “not yet” and “not now” as we struggle to figure out who we are among the rules and regulations adults put on us. Within our imaginations, however, we are conjurers of the impossible building entire worlds of fantasy, bringing our stuffed friends to life, and even summoning the courage to topple ginormous beasts. As we grow older, though, we tend to forget this part of ourselves, setting aside our internalized wonders for weighted responsibilities. As adults, we tend to think of what we gain by setting aside childish things, yet we rarely ponder what we lose. This question is the heart of Disney’s Christopher Robin, newly released on home video, which sees the titular Christopher become a serious man with little time for the very play that made him who he is. Finding a delightful balance between the harshness of reality and the wonder of imagination, director Marc Forster (All I See Is You) continues the story of young Robin that delights audiences old and new, while pushing the audience to consider what their younger selves would think of who they’ve become.
Young Christopher Robin (Orton O’Brien) spends all the time he can in the 100 acre wood playing with his friends Winnie the Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings), Piglet (voiced by Nick Mohammed), Eeyore (voiced by Brad Garrett), Tigger (voiced by Cummings), Rabbit (voiced by Peter Capaldi), Owl (voiced by Toby Jones), Kanga (voiced by Sophia Okonedo), and Roo (voiced by Sara Sheen) until the time comes for him leave them behind as he transitions to boarding school. Grown up and graduating, adult Christopher (Ewan McGregor) heads to London where he meets, falls in love, and marries Evelyn (Hayley Atwell), before joining the fight in World War II. Returning home long after the birth of his daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael), Christopher finds work with luggage company Winslow Enterprises in their efficiency department in order to provide for his family. On the eve of a long desired trip away to spend time together with his family in the cottage he grew up in, Christopher’s boss Giles Winslow (Mark Gatiss) tells him that Christopher must find a way to save 20% of their budget or the company will collapse and they need a plan from him by Monday. Leaving his family disappointed as he isolates himself at home in London to work, Winnie the Pooh serendipitously arrives back in Christopher’s life with a crisis of his own.
There’s so much to delight in from Christopher Robin that it makes the possibility of revisiting the film absolutely enticing, whether this is a first time watch or not. Forster absolutely captures the innocence and heartfelt honesty prevalent in Milne’s original stories. They weren’t adventures of epic proportions, yet they felt that way to the characters. This time around, the adventure is far more grand as the tale leaves the safety of the 100 acre wood, yet Christopher Robin never loses sight of the simplicity it comes from. Helping to convey the child-like view of the characters involved is some of the best CGI in recent memory as every member of the 100 acre wood seems as though magicians placed a spell upon actual stuffed animals to animate them. Paired with perfect vocal work from original Pooh voice Cummings, as well as newer additions, the live-action cast and the animated ones work seamlessly together to create a undeniably believable world wherein a young boy’s imagination calls out to help his older self in crisis. McGregor and Atwell are certainly highlights of the film, each providing performances feeling present, adaptive, and genuine in their respective roles. As Christopher, McGregor ensures the character appears more lost than dispassioned about his family; whereas Atwell offers a performance which makes Evelyn understandable as she struggles to keep her family together. Individually, all the performances are strong, but their combined might will make even the most hardened of hearts weepy by the narrative’s resolution.
As expected from a Mouse House production, the whole of Christopher Robin is directed at telling an introspective tale while entertaining its audience. In this case, it requires a balancing act of epic proportions which the team behind the film pull off to great effect. The script from screenwriters Alex Ross Perry, Tom McCarthy, and Allison Schroeder feels somehow refreshing and new, even as it treads old ground using the “character is reminded of his youth” trope. In fact, there’s much about the mechanics of Christopher Robin which feels reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s Hook, which saw a similarly disaffected Peter regain his youthful vigor. In a similar manner, the narrative never makes Christopher Robin seem like a lost cause, so much as in need of a strong reminder of that which we forget as responsibilities take over: there’s more to our lives than the daily grind. Utilizing the ever affable Pooh bear as the catalyst for Christopher’s introspection brilliantly enables the script to ask simple questions of Christopher Robin whose at-first complicated answers reveal only the complexities adults create for themselves. Transparent though it may be, the combination of both the simplicity in approach via dialogue as well as using Pooh as the tool for questioning makes each scene feel emotionally weighted. So much so that, when Pooh asks the adult Christopher, without a hint of accusation or anger, “did you let me go?,” it’s undoubtedly gut-wrenching. Whether adding to the emotional weight of the questions or infusing joy as Christopher Robin returns to the 100 acre wood, the final piece of the Christopher Robin puzzle is the score composted by Jon Brion (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and Geoff Zanelli (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales). There’s an inherent melancholy with growing older and growing out of the things we did as children, and their score manages to capture that unavoidable sadness while also inserting a pervasive hopefulness. In concert with the stirring performances and entertaining narrative, the score removes the mundanity of adulthood to remind audiences of the adventures that lie within us.
There’re two strong detractors within Christopher Robin which were wholly avoidable had a bit more attention been taken. For one, the stories of Christopher and Winnie come from original author Milne’s own son and his stuffed toys. As such, seeing young Christopher – and any adventure during that period – can be excused as merely another story in his adolescent life. Except Christopher is very real and, while no one would argue that Christopher Robin is no in any way a true story, there was an opportunity to meld the real world with the stories via Madeline, a character inspired by the real Christopher’s daughter Clare, a philanthropist born with cerebral palsy. Instead, the character is given a new name and is able-bodied, allowing her to take part more easily in the third act shenanigans involving a delightfully amusing action sequence wherein the 100 acre wood comes to London. This could’ve been an opportunity for Disney to not only place a member of the disabled community front-and-center within a prime Disney property, but it would strongly acknowledge the real relationship between these stories and their creator. Instead, Disney choose a more narrative-friendly route which doesn’t so much erase or rewrite history, but ignores it completely. The second notable problem appears as the third act shifts into the conclusion of the story. As the characters make the inevitable confessions which signal emotional growth, there’s a change in both editing and dialogue which feels decidedly different than all the rest of the picture. As Christopher talks with his daughter Madeline, the camera rapidly cuts between them, Evelyn, who is standing nearby, and Winnie and company. Rather than allowing the audience to feel the connection between Christopher and Madeline grow stronger, a series of dizzying cuts, intended to perhaps continue the excitable energy of the previous scene, manages to detract from the emotionality. From here, the whole of the film seems to lose its gentle grip on reality, which was balanced so well up to this point, and goes full Disney by wrapping up Christopher’s troubles with such a nicely wrapped bow that it somehow ignores all the work done to establish the rules of Christopher’s world. Where the whole film prior was sweet, this was an unnecessary tip into the saccharine.
Despite itself, Christopher Robin is an absolute gem of a picture and is perfect for audiences of all ages. Though it may not have fared well at the box office, earning $196 million during its global theatrical run, it’s hard to imagine Christopher Robin not finding a home for itself during the holidays. The script is fun, the performances from cast (real or CGI) are delightful, the music’s evocative, and the narrative’s themes of introspection and growth are right in keeping with the holidays. If nothing else, Disney’s given audiences a live-action version of characters that isn’t just a carbon-copy of something old dressed as something new. That, to be sure, is something to celebrate.
Bonus Features may vary by retailer, but generally include:
Blu-ray & Digital HD:
- In Which … A Movie Is Made for Pooh – Filmmakers and cast share their passion for this story in a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the movie.
- In Which … Pooh Finds His Voice – Discover what it’s like to voice Winne the Pooh, from voice actors Sterling Holloway to Jim Cummings.
- In Which … Pooh and Walt Become Friends – How did Walt Disney and Pooh meet? Take a journey through time to explore the legacy of Walt’s first encounter with Pooh.
- In Which … Pooh and Friends Come to Life – See how Winnie the Pooh and Friends were brought to life as walking and talking stuffed animals in this magical live-action world.
Exclusive Digital Bonus Feature:
- In Which … We Were Very Young – Meet the actual, original teddy bear who, along with his best friends, has inspired so much love worldwide for almost a century.
Now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital wherever films are sold.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.