The Hundred Acre Wood vibrantly comes to life through the animated characters in Christopher Robin. Unlike last year’s Goodbye Christopher Robin, which dealt with the real-life son of A.A. Milne, this film considers what became of the Christopher Robin in the storybook had he become an adult.
The story begins in the Hundred Acre Wood, where we see the cast of characters so familiar from Milne’s stories and Disney’s movies: Pooh (Jim Cummings), Eeyore (Brad Garrett), Piglet (Nick Mohammed), Tigger (also Jim Cummings), Owl (Toby Jones), Kanga (Sophie Okenedo), Roo (Sara Sheen), and Rabbit (Peter Capaldi). We see scenes of them frolicking with a young Christopher Robin (Orton O’Brien) up to the point where there is a farewell party for him as he is about to head off to boarding school.
Throughout this sequence, the live action is intertwined from time to time by the images of the book text and illustrations. After the party, this technique continues as Christopher ages through to adulthood, although now we see mostly text. Live-action images show him attending school, going to work, meeting his wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) for the first time on a bus, deploying for war and in battle, returning home, and going to work at Winslow Luggage.
These scenes go by fairly quickly so that we can get to the meat of the story. Christopher (Ewan McGregor) is now an efficiency expert at Winslow Luggage. His boss, Giles Winslow (Mark Gatiss), the supercilious son of the owner, informs Christopher that over the weekend he must come up with 20% worth of cuts or he will have to lay off staff. Of course that means that Christopher will have to work through the entire weekend, despite a planned holiday with his family to his parents’ cottage, by, you guessed it, the Hundred Acre Wood.
As soon as Christopher returns home, Evelyn already knows the news as a staff member called her at home. She didn’t even pack a suitcase for him. The two argue about what is important in life and in their family, which includes a daughter, Madeline (Bronte Carmichael), who Christopher is planning to send to boarding school soon. His daughter is as disappointed, if not more so, than her mother at his missing the outing. She shows him some items in a box which were given to him by Pooh and the others when he left them.
The next morning, he sees them off in the car and goes about his work. As he is returning home, he sees his pest of a neighbor and ducks into the nearby park.
In a parallel scene Pooh has awakened in his home but when he ventures out the Wood is foggy and there is no trace of his friends. He decides to go find Christopher to help him look for them. He ends up in the same park as Christopher, where they are reunited. From there, things radically change for Christopher and his family.
The animated characters, which are 3-D, are so cute that you want to just hug them. Pooh and Eeyore stand out due to the voice work of Cummings and Garrett. When four of them journey to London with Madeline to help her dad, they are as funny as can be as strangers in a strange land. Their familiarity both from the Milne books and Disney films make them instantly recognizable and evoke warm memories.
The human actors are subordinated to the animated ones. But Ewan McGregor gives a fine performance as the adult Christopher Robin. His character goes from being a one-note bore to someone who is able to experience a range of emotions again. Bronte Carmichael holds her own with both the animated and human characters. Hayley Atwell does not have much to do and is adequate in her role.
The plot boils down to several themes. Will Christopher rediscover his child-like wonder for life? Will he solve the crisis at Winslow Luggage? Will his family be transformed by this experience and become happier as a result? Since this is a Disney film, the answers to these questions seem pre-ordained.
The execution of the plot bogs down early before the adult Christopher reunites with Pooh. Dark tones predominate and there is a dour atmosphere. I wonder if children will be able to sit through this or if it might not depress them somewhat with the family squabbling and sadness of Madeline. The pushy neighbor in several scenes ultimately serves only as an excuse for Christopher to run into the park where he meets Pooh, so this character could have been eliminated to improve the film.
But once Pooh is back, the mood and tone change dramatically. From Pooh’s antics in the Robin house to a trip on the train and finally back in the Wood, the simplicity of Pooh is wistful and charming. There is a nice madcap chase scene toward the end of the picture and the final scenes are breathtakingly wonderful.
One interesting metaphysical question arises from the fact that Pooh and the others seem to be revived by Christopher’s remembrance of them. Yet other humans can see them move and hear them when they aren’t pretending to be plush toys. So is Christopher some kind of wizard to conjure up creatures who then others can see? Food for thought.
Overall, the film covers new ground in imagining the adult life of the storybook Christopher Robin. The plot’s themes are nothing particularly new but are presented, once it gets going, in an engaging way. The animated characters are cute, adorable, charming, and any other positive adjectives you wish to place here. This is a good family film that can be enjoyed by all.
Rating: Three out of five stars
In the heartwarming live action adventure Disney’s “Christopher Robin,” the young boy who embarked on countless adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood with his band of spirited and lovable stuffed animals, has grown up and lost his way. Now it is up to his childhood friends to venture into our world and help Christopher Robin remember the loving and playful boy who is still inside.
Now grown up, Christopher Robin is stuck in a job where he is overworked, underpaid and facing an uncertain future. He has a family of his own, but his work has become his life, leaving little time for his wife and daughter. Christopher has all but forgotten his idyllic childhood spent with a simple-minded, honey-loving stuffed bear and his friends. But when he is reunited with Winnie the Pooh, now tattered and soiled from years of hugs and play, their friendship is rekindled, reminding Christopher of the endless days of childlike wonder and make believe that defined his youth, when doing nothing was considered the very best something. Following an unfortunate mishap with Christopher Robin’s briefcase, Pooh and the rest of the gang including Piglet, Eeyore and Tigger, step out of the forest and venture into London to return the crucial possessions…because best friends will always be there for you.
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael, Mark Gatiss
With the Voices of: Jim Cummings, Brad Garrett, Toby Jones, Nick Mohammed, Peter Capaldi, Sophie Okonedo
Directed by: Marc Forster
Screenplay by: Alex Ross Perry and Allison Schroeder (credit is not final)
Story by: Alex Ross Perry (credit is not final)
Based on Characters Created by: A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard