The second Winnie the Pooh live action film in the last 10 months, the first being Goodbye Christopher Robin, director Marc Forster‘s Christopher Robin is genuinely fun and charming.
Starring Ewan McGregor as Christopher, this Disney release does not purport itself to be strictly biographical. It’s a fantasy story about a real life person, and anyone with knowledge of the real Christopher Robin will notice multiple inconsistencies, mostly a lack of utter disdain and hate. The real Christopher came to hate his father’s appropriation of the “fun time” stories of Winnie the Pooh.
Here, Christopher is a man who was once an idealistic boy. He works at Winslow’s Suitcases under a greedy worm of a boss, Giles Winslow (Mark Gatiss). And you thought Harry potter in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was disappointing.
Christopher has seen his father die at a young age and has fought in the war (World War II). All things that cause little boys to grow up far too soon. Long forgotten is the bear he used to play with in the Hundred Acre Woods and the going away tea party he had with those other furry creatures before going off to boarding school, which the film opens with.
Forster made an interesting and gamey stylistic choice of rendering Pooh and co, not as the familiar image of the 90s cartoons, but as the original stuffed animals. Their appearances are the most true to life portions of the film. They also give this iteration a unique style, keeping it from an obvious money grab, at in appearances.
In the intervening time between this tea party, Christopher also has a family: a wife named Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and his daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael, who is close in appearance to the real Christopher Robin Milne).
The three’s dynamic is testy. Christopher and Evelyn are apart because of his job. Also, he’s the most awkward father in the world (he reads British history books to his daughter as bedtime stories). Still, McGregor is curiously genuine in these scenes. He falls into the comedy and post-war British sensibilities well, in a bleak world that seems eerily similar to ours.
The other cunning trick of Christopher Robin is keeping Jim Cummings as the voice of Winnie the Pooh and Tigger. Few actors could have picked up the nuance and detailed delivery that he brings. It made Cummings’s inclusion a necessity. He’s joined by Brad Garrett as Eeyore, Nick Mohammed as Piglet, Peter Capaldi as Rabbit, Sophie Okonedo as Kanga, Sara Sheen as Roo, and Toby Jones as Owl, respectively. They constitute the most talented bench of lightly utilized actors this year.
Ultimately, there are a few conflicts in the film: Christopher’s relationship to his family, the task of him number crunching to save jobs in the Winslow Suitcase company, and the disappearance of Pooh’s friends, which causes Pooh to seek Christopher for help. In fact, if you squinted hard enough, you’d swear that you were watching Mary Poppins. That is, a father who’s forgotten how to have fun, stuck dealing with money, with a strained relationship with his child. Oh, and then there’s the pure savior come to rescue the day. In Mary Poppins it’s a nanny. Here, it’s a bear. And that bear is as usual, charming and sweet. He’s childlike in his beliefs and resolute in his friendships.
Throughout, Christopher Robin is filled with funny and wonderfully touching moments from Pooh, who delivers some nuggets, like “People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day” or “Doing nothing often leads to the very best kind of something.” These aphorisms give the film a pureness, even when other parts run stiff. Because in essence, Christopher Robin is a buddy film. It’s the buddy who went off to college and came back completely changed. It’s the moment when your relationship must be reassembled and reimagined, made deeper by the unflinching love and belief Pooh has in Christopher. And along the way, you’ll cry, you’ll reminiscence, and you’ll see again what it meant to be a kid, but mostly, it’ll be a time to remember a silly old bear.