There are some things that transcend generations: the themes of practically every Shakespearean work, iconic movie scenes that turn bathrooms into traumascapes, and, of course, characters from beloved children’s stories. You don’t even have to be familiar with Milne’s inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood to know who Winnie the Pooh and Tigger are, so it comes as no surprise that the next Disney classic to receive the live-action treatment is the adventures of Pooh and Christopher Robin.
The film begins with the inhabitants of Hundred Acre Wood holding a farewell party for young Christopher Robin who is soon to depart for boarding school. After fast-forwarding through a montage of significant life adventures the story kicks off starring a grown-up Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) who puts his career first and his family a close second. When a crisis breaks out at work, Christopher is forced to abandon his plans to spend the weekend with his wife (Hayley Atwell) and daughter (Bronte Carmichael) in the country and head into the office instead. Meanwhile, in the Hundred Acre Wood, Winnie the Pooh (Jim Cummings) wakes up one morning to find all his friends have disappeared. With nowhere else to go, Pooh find himself back in Christopher Robin’s life and the two travel to Robin’s childhood home to find Pooh’s friends.
Film critic Robbie Collin hit the nail on the head when he described this film as sitting halfway up the stairs, unable to settle on a floor. The adult-centric story along with the live-action animation, and general lack of colour put Christopher Robin purely in the realm of family drama rather than all-inclusive kids’ film, however its plot simplicity and talking stuffed animals quite obviously indicate what sort of bums should fill the cinema’s seats. The film suffers from being neither here nor there while trying to be in both places at once, as is demonstrated by the plot’s predictable yet endearing climactic acts in which Christopher Robin saves his childhood friends and then they turn around and save him. The best part of the movie actually happens in the middle in which Pooh disappears and Christopher Robin is forced to act like a child playing make-believe in order to convince everyone he’s not a heffalump. After such sweet and entertaining character growth, the film’s third act seems anticlimactic and quite clichéd and Mary Poppins-esque, with none of the drama really hitting any emotional high notes.
But, where the film does shine is in its aesthetic and animation. From the moment Christopher Robin goes to war and ‘becomes a man’ a gloomy grey fog passes over the film –literally passes over the Hundred Acre Wood- and the vibe is quite reminiscent of a period British war movie. Very little colour -aside from red- is used to bring any sort of life to the movie, making the whole thing soporific and almost painfully metaphorical. However, this gloom, which carries on into the world of Robin’s childhood, proves invaluable in creating some of the most simple and beautiful screenshots. The image of a grown man sitting on a log with a balloon in one hand and teddy tear in the other just tugs warmly at a place deep inside all of us and it’s little moments like this where the movie earns its stripes.
Above all though Christopher Robin is all about the plush toys. Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Owl, Rabbit, Kanga, Roo, and –my favourite- Eeyore are all just as we remember them in the books and Disney’s original animated features, but given a new life as there is nothing cartoonish or stop-motion about them. There’s a genuineness in these talking plush toys that sets the movie apart from others –a bit like the animation in Babe– and this is where the movie magic works to enchant both kiddies and grownups.
Pitted against the other family movies lining the box office these school holidays, I would definitely recommend Christopher Robin for the nostalgia, the movie magic, and the endearing plot that might help some struggling adults readjust their priorities.