by Tanner Kinney
There was once somebody that told me, “Being a child is like being high all the time.” At first, this concept didn’t make much sense, but it’s actually a pretty interesting thought. After all, there are many activities, games, songs, television shows, and movies that are beloved by children, but are later discovered to be utter trash. Even the imaginary games played in the woods were exciting and fun. Eventually though, adult sensibilities and responsibilities block the act of having dumb fun. Doing nothing and enjoying life, instead of grinding for wealth or power or social media clout. At least, for a lot of children there are no serious worries, only good times.
Despite this idea being shown in the film Christopher Robin, the unfortunate thing is that kids would probably not enjoy watching this movie. And for adults, it leaves… mixed feelings.
Christopher Robin goes to war on family fun
Christopher Robin tells the tale of an adult, well, Christopher Robin (played by Ewan McGregor), the child from Winnie the Pooh. After being torn away from the Hundred Acre Wood to go to boarding school, Christopher forgets all about his childhood playtime and becomes an adult. Through the years he finds work, finds love, goes to war (yes, including actual war flashbacks), and now is dealing with choosing between family and work. With fun now being a foreign concept in Christopher’s mind, only his old Hundred Acre friends can come back in to save him from himself.
The general story of “adult remembering how to be a kid again” is not a new concept, but with such beloved and iconic characters as those within the Winnie the Pooh lore, it should be able to be a simple story told well. Christopher Robin fumbles this by being a little too heavy-handed in the writing and dialogue. The most clear example of this is when Roo asks Christopher Robin pretty much word for word “is your briefcase more important than your daughter?” If the obvious themes weren’t enough, then the heavy-handed visual symbolism makes it even more obnoxious. A child would easily catch on to this, but of course, this message is not designed for a child. The message of this movie is targeted at jaded adults who are too cynical to have fun anymore, which I guess now includes me. In that sense, the story did hit close to home, so it was a success there. That doesn’t really make it any less overbearing.
This movie, however, was marketed as a nice, wholesome, feel good movie. The previous Winnie the Pooh animated films have had dynamic emotion (especially The Tigger Movie), but it all starts positive and ends positive. They feel good to watch through and through. The first act of Christopher Robin is legitimately one of the most gloomy, brown/grey, and depressing family film first acts in recent memory. If the war flashbacks and corporate talk about “efficiency” weren’t enough, some of the terrible things Christopher says to Pooh are excessively mean. On top of being depressing, it’s also boring. There were several families within the showing I went to that bailed on the movie before the halfway mark because the kids were getting restless. If the goal of this movie is to be a fun family picture, then families walking out of the theatre is not a good sign.
Cartoons that actually belong in the real world
One of the major concerns going into Christopher Robin is that it had the faint smell of similar family films with formerly cartoon characters entering a real world. Films like The Smurfs, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and Looney Toons: Back in Action come to mind, and those aren’t exactly the best of films. Disney, however, manages to nail the visuals and charm of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, at least with the design of the characters.
Almost all of the characters are CGI stuffed animals, and they look, move, and interact with the world like stuffed animals would. The worn down nature of beloved plush dolls is shown in the time-skip between the start of the movie and when the Hundred Acre Wood re-enters the picture. Tigger especially looks fantastic in motion, with his plush nature still intact while bouncing around the world. The “fur” on the stuffed animals also responds to the world like actual stuffed animals would, like with Pooh and his excessive consumption of honey making the “fur” look sticky. They look natural in the real world of London, which is an impressive feat compared to similar films.
The other impressive visual aspect is the cinematography. Although the early parts of the film are lacking color and life, they are still interesting to look at. The Silent Hill-esque fog that lingers in the Hundred Acre Wood while Christopher and Pooh are first searching for their old friends is genuinely creepy, and it creates fantastic atmosphere. The second half of the movie is much brighter and still has great moments of cinematography. Particularly the scene where Ewan McGregor fights “the heffalump” (aka nothing), which was more believable than when he fought CGI characters in the Star Wars prequels. And, again, the scenes with the CGI cast in London look fantastic as well, with lots of movement and actions that’s well-paced and exciting to watch.
A warm blanket of nostalgia
Despite all of the problems with how the film is paced, how it is written, and the overall botched narrative that Christopher Robin has, this film still manages to provide some simple joyous feelings. At least, it provides feelings for those nostalgic towards the classic Winnie the Pooh animation. Pooh doing his stoutness exercises, Tigger singing his song, the music overall (particularly the coffee house piano version of the opening theme from The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh), and even many of the lines within the film just bring back fond memories. Typically I try not to let nostalgia bait like this get to me, but this one time, I was okay just cozying up in a nostalgia blanket.
The individual lines for most of the cast were also pretty entertaining as well. Eeyore had a lot of great, relatable lines, and Pooh had a number of fantastic lines as well. The line Pooh has of, “People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing everything day,” is one of the best single lines any character has had in any film I’ve seen. And all of the acting is incredibly solid and nostalgic, especially Jim Cummings returning as Pooh and Tigger. Although, for some reason his mic sounds worse than the rest of the cast. Ewan McGregor does a great job at both playing an adult and playing an adult that’s embracing his childhood. The film is nothing if not well-produced and well-acted to remind people of the good old days.
Featured image from IMDb
‘Christopher Robin’ is a hard film to judge. It plays on nostalgia so well and perfectly brings The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh to life in a more modern setting. There are plenty of funny lines, great moments, and great characters to make the film a treat for those who grew up with Winnie the Pooh. But that doesn’t excuse the heavy-handed, sloppy delivery of a message that’s overdone in family films. It also doesn’t excuse the actual war flashbacks that happen in a movie with talking stuffed animals. Plus, if a child was brought to see the film, they’d be asleep before the movie even got good. It’s a solid watch, but maybe not the best film for the whole family.
Tanner is a Film and Media Studies major and a Digital Media minor. His Neo Yokio review won a second-place CSPA Golden Circle award for the 2017 semester. He enjoys playing JRPG’s of any variety, regardless of how obscure and strange it is. Tanner is also the host of Byte at the Movies, the premiere movie discussion live-stream.