Directed by Marc Forster
Starring Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael, Jim Cummings, and Brad Garrett
Reber’s Rating – A
Though long fought in courts across the years for permanent control, A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh has been a treasured property by Walt Disney since the 1960’s. The property has always found a way to maintain relevancy, new generations of children being raised on Pooh Bear throughout the years. I personally discovered the character in 1988 with ABC’s The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Something about the innocence of a honey-loving bear, a piglet filled with worry and anxiety, a donkey who can’t catch a break, a temperamental owl with a thirst for knowledge, an annoyed hare, and a curious kangaroo (and mother) fascinated me. I could identify with Christopher Robin. I wanted a group of lively animals to be my closest friends, whisking me away from everyday normal and wandering off on endless adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood. But this is reality, not a cartoon, and in time I grew up. I never tried to forget my inner child, tucked away somewhere deep within my mind, but growing up means forgetting who you were as a youth sometimes.
2018 is a large anniversary of sorts for the franchise. The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh debuted in 1988, thirty years long ago. Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day is a half-century old, landing on screens back in 1968. Even Piglet’s Big Movie, released in 2003, turns 15 years old. But from the very moment I saw the teaser trailer for Mark Forster’s Christopher Robin, I knew this latest exploit wasn’t fully meant for children. I saw a tale of something more than lost childhood inculpability. An adult-centered story of a middle-aged Christopher Robin, slaving away in London and unable to tear himself away from work to spend time with his family, struck a chord in my gigantic heart. I, and fairly many others, could too say they have become Christopher Robin. Sure, I’m presently engaged and without children yet, but I plod away between four jobs overall. Though I make the time for what’s important in life – friends, family, my sanity- there are times where that bliss seems to dim from my 5:45am wake-up call up to my 11:30pm bedtime.
Christopher Robin is the kind of movie we’ve all needed at some point in our lives. On the surface families will delight and revel in the new adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore, Rabbit, Owl, Kanga, and Roo as they interact with a matured Christopher Robin. Their story is charming, with a sense of wonderment and loving endearment. For those who can peel back the layers, however, adults will find a very introspective revelation of a man consumed to do and be better dedicated to setting up the future while overlooking the present and forgetting his past. Our title character undertakes a jaunt into yesteryear to rediscover himself and what is most paramount to him. Many people will overlook the subject matter written into Christopher Robin‘s fabric but Forster has crafted one of the most heartwarming and impassioned films of 2018, a possible Oscar joy that surprised me nearly as much Spielberg’s Ready Player One this past March.
Don’t get me wrong – if you’re taking your kids to see Christopher Robin, you won’t need to look at the serious side of the film. The emotive plot was conceived by Mark Steven Johnson – yes, the bloke behind both Daredevil and Ghost Rider – but written by Allison Schroeder (Hidden Figures), Alex Ross Perry (a relative newcomer), and Tom McCarthy (2015’s Oscar powerhouse Spotlight). Their script expands well beyond making the Pooh and friends the main characters. Sure, their tomfoolery accounts for the lightheartedness of the film, their precocious and timid natures absolutely heartwarming and infectious. Unlike Pooh’s previous adventures Forster transplants the action outside of the Hundred Acre Wood as well. In the years since Robin left home for boarding school his diminutive animal pals have continued about their lives on the daily. Life just doesn’t come to an abrupt halt just because one individual is removed from the equation. Their lives have continued inside the Hundred Acre Wood. What happens when the gang opts to help out their best of friends? They venture into the real world, where Tigger’s hilarity and Eeyore’s despondency shine while interacting with normal everyday folk, Pythonesque reactions eliciting bona fide laughter. The kids will eat up the sincere and sweet humor, you’ll laugh right along with them.
Forster has created a distinct yet rollicking film in that the lighthearted nature blends seamlessly with the drama. Seeing Winnie the Pooh and company brought to life by computer graphics looks incredibly realistic. Each character looks and feels like a fluffy stuffed animal, lacking the smoothness of animation but popping with life, their interactions with Robin and family not appearing jilted but more human. My worry was their existence brought to life by special effects would be a distraction but, thankfully, that is not even a concern. Nonetheless looking beyond our cast of lively characters audiences will find a movie that hits closer to home than imagined, a cautionary tale of a man whose concern lies more with climbing the corporate ladder than ensuring life at home is evenly balanced. At first glance, Christopher Robin rediscovering Winnie the Pooh and companions is a bittersweet reunion, the now adult Robin slowly warming up and realizing he’s very much missed his friends. Look past the surface, Christopher Robin is a relatable story of a man who’s forgotten the joy and innocence of childhood.
Fifteen years onward and here we are again with Ewan McGregor in the middle of a personal emotional film. In 2003 he wowed audiences as the younger Ed Bloom in Tim Burton’s Big Fish, a story of a son trying to make sense of his gravely-ill father’s wildly imaginative stories. Here in 2018 we come back around, McGregor now the elder gent trying to define the line between reality and fantasy. As a child Robin ran through fields, warded off the likes of the Heffalump and the Woozle, and had genuine fun with his friends, a lonely childhood brightened by animals come to life. Now, as an adult, he tries to dismiss his adolescence. Aren’t we all guilty of doing the same? McGregor has always been able to serve as an Everyman, taking ownership of any role afforded to his abilities, and creating magic in front of the camera to relate to audiences. Yet again McGregor shines, his guilt tearing him from the inside out, appetite for pleasing his boss taking precedence over keeping his wife and daughter happy. His sins eat at him, lost like a little boy with no one to guide him, the only answer possibly dropping into his lap – a silly old bear with a taste for honey.
Choosing Winnie the Pooh to serve as the driving force to open Christopher Robin’s eyes is more much earnest than any other human protagonist. The simpleness and naivete of Pooh Bear are the best catalyst for a harried white-collar businessman trying to make the problematic decisions. Robin keeps sidestepping the silly old bear’s simplistic views on life, trying to discern how to navigate an unwinnable situation. Pooh doesn’t try to think too hard, as he isn’t the smartest of bears in the world. “I always get to where I’m going by walking away from where I’ve been.” He knows he’ll find his answers eventually without even trying. Getting lost along the way is what makes something out of nothing. Anyone can work hard to make dreams a reality but when your life is happening right here, right now, what do you do? Take the path no one knows and conclude what everyone expects you to do? Pooh’s outlooks on life, on how to prevail problems, is the sort of simple thinking that the elder Robin nor any of us would ever endeavor. We would be a Woozle before an adventurer and most certainly overlook the joy a balloon can bring someone on a dour day.
Everything in life indeed circles around all over again. As a child Robin and Pooh share time on a toppled tree overlooking a bright valley, hope in the boy’s voice and sadness in the bear’s, the boy telling his friend he’ll always be present when needed. Yet, years later and maybe a few beats skipped, the story comes around all over again, the man having to rediscover what makes him happy most, his more cherished of friends waiting for him after all this time gone by. Robin may have grown up hard – faced loss in life, went off to war, made it home to succeed for betterment of his family – but Christopher Robin aims to teach us the time is never lost to make the time. No matter your age, there’s no time like today to alter something that doesn’t make you happy. We can keep holding back our worries because of fear of the unknown – but that won’t transform where we wish our tomorrows to go. Do we keep those we love alongside us or left behind us as we’re blinded by foolish ambitions? At certain junctures we all need to just sit and appreciate what is around us, a worthwhile lesson wrapped inside of a family movie to reel in moviegoers.
Christopher Robin is a summertime treat that breaks up weeks of mindless action fare. Marc Forster, who similarly plotted both Finding Neverland and Stranger Than Fiction, has managed to sneak a real surprise into theaters this late in the summer. Kids need a break from the ho-hum summertime blues. Adults need a film that isn’t just overdone CG effects and fisticuffs. Though still fairly early in the year to say the word ‘Oscar,’ this live-action Disney feature seeks to do more than just leave a smile on your face. Under the surface, past the hijinks of Pooh and company, lies a more complicated film that offers a different outlook on life. Growing older, becoming a working adult and leaving your childhood in the dust, doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. It is never too late to open your eyes to look beyond worrying about tomorrow. After all, the day is today. The most favorite day. And that is the lesson to never forget.
Jerrold spent his childhood in southeastern Pennsylvania ingesting far too many TV shows and movies, thus creating a stark-raving mad geek. He’s a movie aficionado, binge-watches Netflix, and is a total TV junkie. His addiction has led to an unhealthy and rabid obsession of various geek pantheons – Star Trek, Star Wars, both DC *AND* Marvel,
cult 80’s and 90’s television, Supernatural, The X-Files, Doctor Who, and, and…holy overload. He’s still waiting to run away in a 1967 Impala or a blue police box.