An adult Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) is encouraged to recapture his sense of fun and adventure when he reunites with his childhood friend in Marc Forster’s Christopher Robin.
The basic structure of this film will be familiar to many people. On the surface it’s the same story as Hook; a film that also features one of literature’s most famous children having grown up and lost that sense of wonder that comes with being young. Christopher Robin is just such a story with the titular character having to recapture something he lost through the simple act of growing up.
Everything seems promising in the strong opening. The film begins with a farewell party for a young Christopher Robin (Orton O’Brien) in the Hundred Acre Wood as he is preparing to go off to boarding school which unfortunately means leaving all his friends behind. Promises are made to treasure the memories forever and never forget the experiences that had come to define them which of course sets the tone for a morbid exploration of Christopher Robin transitioning into adulthood which includes going off to war and eventually ending up in a stressful job where there really is no time for childish pursuits.
He also has a family that he neglects in the form of Hayley Atwell’s Evelyn and their daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael). Naturally he neglects them in favour of his job and this doesn’t really sit well with either of them. the main conflict he has with Madeline is that he’s intent on forcing her to go to a prestigious boarding school because he has decided that it’s best for her even though she doesn’t want to go. His relationship with Evelyn is fairly standard in that she resents the fact that he’s a workaholic while he feels that he’s doing what he needs to do in order to provide for his family.
Right away these conflicts stand out as being uninteresting because they have been seen and done better elsewhere. It really doesn’t help that they are purely surface level with a predictable resolution. There is merit to the fact that the wedge Christopher Robin has driven between himself and his family isn’t portrayed as being overly dramatic which means that it does feel more real but not enough is done with it for either of them to become interesting.
A big part of the problem is that Evelyn and Madeline feel like afterthoughts to the overall narrative. Hayley Atwell is great as always in a fairly thankless role that gives her little to do despite the background detail of her having her own successful career where she manages to make time for family. Madeline does have a lot more to do on a narrative level later on but her baseline motivations are barely explored and in both cases this counts as a massive missed opportunity because interestingly complex relationships did exist but aren’t given time to come into their own.
The main purpose of this film is to explore Christopher Robin reclaiming his childhood by reconnecting with his childhood friends Winnie the Pooh (Jim Cummings), Eeyore (Brad Garrett), Tigger (also Jim Cummings), Piglet (Nick Mohammed), Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), Owl (Toby Jones), Kanga (Sophie Okonedo) and Roo (Sara Sheen). The first reminder comes when Pooh somehow finds his way to London and acts as an irritant for Christopher Robin who has lost patience for him clumsy nature.
Pooh and his friends are the highlight of this film. The voice actors really brings these characters to life with Jim Cummings not missing a beat in voicing a character he will be all too familiar with. It has been a long time since I’ve seen anything to do with Winnie the Pooh but in some ways it’s possibly the best way to experience this film as one of the main themes is remembering what has been forgotten. My vague memories of how these characters are supposed to sound and behave enhanced my viewing of the film as I felt a growing sense of familiarity as the film progressed and my childhood memory was triggered. It really is astounding character work and should be commended.
The CGI that gives these characters presence is really impressive though I personally wasn’t entirely onboard with the style. My biggest issue was the muted colour scheme as it felt completely counter to what the film was trying to achieve. Perhaps starting off with more subdued colours and gradually getting brighter as the childhood innocence is reclaimed would have been more effective. Unfortunately the visuals are relentlessly bleak even when the film preaches optimism and it negatively affects the film. Draining the colour from everything is a disturbing modern trend in film-making and this feels like a textbook example of that. It’s particularly jarring here with the posters being much more colourful. Despite that the characters look great with real weight and presence. Ewan McGregor helps sell that with an effortless performance playing against CGI characters while convincingly playing a lived in relationship between Christopher Robin and his friends who inhabit the Hundred Acre Wood.
Another issue is the arc that Christopher Robin follows. It will be obvious where he will end up from very early on in the film but the point where he turns his back on the bitterness and embraces the joy that he had forgotten feels very rushed. A more natural and gradual transition would have worked far better as the abruptness of it is really jarring and Christopher Robin completely shifts gears in the space of a single scene with very little justification.
The pacing of the film is refreshingly deliberate with a lot of time spent establishing mood early on and then allowing the audience to bask in that mood for a long time before changing things up. Most of the story beats are grounded in character rather than action specifically though there is a chase set piece late on in the film that feels appropriate at that point. With a little more polish the different elements could have come together into something more satisfying.
An underwhelming movie that misses more opportunities than it lands and fails to take advantage of its obvious strengths. On a conceptual level this film is really interesting and has so much potential that goes unfulfilled. Ewan McGregor delivers a strong performance as Christopher Robin convincingly playing against CGI characters. The design of Winnie the Pooh and his friends is really impressive though draining them of colour is a really confusing decision that negatively affects the film. Christopher Robin’s development to reclaiming his sense of fun and childhood innocence feels far too rushed and the conflict he has with his family doesn’t ever scratch the surface so fails to become interesting. It’s very clear what this film is going for but it never quite gets there.
- Ewan McGregor’s impressive performance
- lots of potential in the underlying relationships
- excellent CGI on Winnie the Pooh and his friends
- Christopher Robin’s arc feeling abrupt
- never scratching the surface of the underlying conflicts
- draining the CGI characters of their colour
- persistent failure to take advantage of obvious strengths
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