Written by ECBC contributor Max, an accomplished journalist, who has written about the entertainment sector for several years.
For this month’s movie review, I’ve selected a film that’s a bit fresher in our minds. However I would understand if Christopher Robin had escaped your attention, among the bluster of the bigger blockbusters on offer this year. But even though the film is on a smaller scale, it’s a hugely earnest and nostalgic tale that’s worthy of note.
The story does not chart the real-life Christopher Robin Milne (who had a decidedly difficult relationship with his father’s creation, Winnie the Pooh) but rather the fictional version that we’ve seen in many an animated film cell from Disney. But here, Christopher’s rendered in live action and he looks an awful lot like Ewan McGregor.
Indeed, this iteration of Christopher Robin forgot about the Hundred Acre Wood a long time ago and he’s since become an overworked grown up. When he neglects his family one too many times, things begin to look bleak for the now unimaginative office worker. But that will soon change – if a certain bear of little brain has anything to say about it. Think along the lines of Steven Spielberg’s Hook, but instead of Lost Boys and fairies, you have honey-loving stuffed toys and Heffalumps.
Sure enough, the main narrative focuses on the reawakening of an imagination that’s been lost in the mad scramble of adult life. But the fact that Christopher Robin also tries to explore the nature of our mental wellbeing is to be applauded. It may not always follow through on all its subtexts in a coherent manner, but the film is striking for its surprisingly sobering stance.
Moreover, this is reflected through the colours of the film itself. Director Marc Forster keeps his visuals relatively subdued, with browns, beiges and greys at the forefront. Is debatable as to whether he should have denoted the rosy glow of childhood – and thus the Hundred Acre Wood – in richer, saturated colours when the film visits these times and locales. However, I’m not complaining. As a Northerner who loves bleak winter walks, I’m used to – and appreciate – such bleak, sepia-tinged vistas. And you can’t argue that this colouring isn’t appropriate, considering just how melancholy Christopher Robin is on certain occasions.
Christopher thoroughly embodies the archetype of an ineffectual father. He’s so overworked and unenthusiastic that his relationships with his wife (Hayley Atwell) and daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael) are thoroughly strained. This is not without reason however. After leaving the Hundred Acre Wood, Christopher has been hardened by boarding school, he suffered the loss of his father and was bruised by his experiences of the Second World War. As an efficiency expert for a luggage company, Christopher has become so engrossed in his work that he’s almost unemotional in all his interactions. He glances at his old drawings with barely a flicker of recognition and his interactions with Madeline are denoted by a very awkward restraint.
It’s clear that adult life has forced Christopher to confront harsh realities, to act in certain ways and do certain things. Christopher typifies the traditional, stiff upper-lipped and “proper” man of that time – a vision that many people still prize to this day. Yet like many people would – and do – he struggles to process those traumas, and instead of acceding to them, they’re buried within a figure that society wants him to be, but not the man is. And that’s where Pooh comes in.
To many people, that teddy bear embodies the humour and innocence of childhood. But in Christopher Robin, Pooh and his friends are something more; they’re embodiments of Christopher’s emotions and needs.
Certainly, throughout the film Christopher attempts to hide or quieten Pooh after they are reacquainted – especially in public. But the bear will not be subdued. Pooh is always searching for companionship and the simpler pleasures in life. And he always magically appears when Christopher needs him.
Characters stare in astonishment when they catch sight of Pooh and his friends moving or when Christopher brings them into a boardroom. Eyebrows are raised, but in a refreshing turn, the existence of these toys isn’t questioned. They’re accepted. Some critics have been rather sceptical of this, claiming that it would have been more fitting to render the toys as overtly magical objects, or figments of Christopher’s imagination. But such cynicism doesn’t have a place in Winnie the Pooh, for it would betray the caprice at the core of these stories.
The simple fact is that Christopher needs Pooh’s simple whimsy to both express and care for himself. Likewise, Pooh needs the rational guidance, and the hard realities, that his human friend offers. In this increasingly frantic world, we all need the time to care for ourselves and to reflect on what we feel and need. A pivotal scene midway through the film encapsulates all these ideas. Both Pooh and Christopher realise and confess just how much they need each other, and if your waterworks are prone to bursting, that will be the time that they blow.
Christopher Robin isn’t just tears and existential angst though, for there is a lot of fun to be had. Seeing Kanga (Sophie Okonedo), Piglet (Nick Mohammed) and Rabbit (Peter Capaldi) simply interact with each other onscreen is a joy to behold. It’s even more so when the animation is this good, and there’s a huge amount of vocal talent being lent to each of these characters. Brad Garrett voices fan-favourite Eeyore, and almost steals the show with his curmudgeonly grumbling. But the clear standout is Jim Cummings, the voice of Winnie the Pooh. Despite having played Pooh for thirty years, he retains the warmth and softness that he first displayed all those years ago. Every moment spent with him is a delight.
The same can’t always be said for the human cast, such as Hayley Atwell and Mark Gatiss. Not that they’re bad mind you, it’s just that their roles are somewhat limiting, so they don’t get much chance to demonstrate their abilities. However, like his silly old bear, McGregor shines in the titular role, and anchors the film with a heartfelt performance. You truly believe in his transformation, from the brittle businessman that is almost beaten, to the renewed dreamer who, in this story, ensures that capitalism work for the little guy too.
Ultimately, your appreciation for Christopher Robin will very much depend on your relationship with Winnie the Pooh, and – as it was the case for About Time – your openness towards sentimentality. If you can accept both of those, then you’re in for a treat. Admittedly, it’s hardly the most ground-breaking – or heart-stopping – of 2018’s offerings. Nevertheless, Christopher Robin is a bittersweet, hilarious and profound cinematic experience.