REVIEW: Christopher Robin

If anyone wants to clap, now is not the time to do it…

Successful businessman, Christopher Robin, hits a slump in his life when work requires him to miss a weekend getaway with his wife and daughter, for which causes his childhood friend, Winnie the Pooh, to return to his life in his hour of great need.

Marc Forster, of the enchanting Finding Neverland (and also Quantum of Solace and World War Z), reworks a childhood classic in 2018’s Christopher Robin to, I guess, some effect – but not much. The once charming and innocent tale of a young boy revelling in his imagination is drained out to become a rather dull story of a man unable to connect with his daughter because he needs to work, as parents do. This little Disney production may still adhere to some of the unique magical aspects of A.A. Milne’s original works, though never truly does the movie live up to its potential and instead adopts a more lifeless and uninspired complex.

What I think is missing most from this movie is the essential ingredient that makes Disney classics not only work but feel timeless and loveable. And that ingredient is the one and only F-word that you know and love: f*ck. No, wait, I meant ‘FUN’. Out of all Disney’s recent live action adaptations of classic animations, the only one to have really left a mark was 2016’s The Jungle Book. That Jon Favreau joint was memorable because it respected the original whilst creating something new, but most of all, it was ‘fun’. Christopher Robin, similarly, exhibited respect for its source material whilst also creating something fairly new from it… though, the problem was, it just wasn’t fun. Christopher Robin was actually kind of boring, and in the long run, risked being a highly memorable Disney effort and, instead, resulted as a bit of a forgettable slog…

Honestly though, Christopher Robin did highly succeed in most of its aspects. The characters of Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore and friends were all depicted perfectly in this film. All of the little critters were adorable and so full of life (well, apart from Eeyore) that it was hard to really fault the elements of the film which included them.  The voice acting was spot on with Jim Cummings’ lending his vocal talents once again to such great effect with Pooh and Tigger. Brad Garrett’s interpretation of Eeyore was flawless and Nick Mohammed as Piglet really clicked in the most charming of ways. The effects on the little toy animals also just really excelled and never came off as silly or unlife-like. Everything about Pooh and the creatures of the Hundred Acre Wood gelled and definitely sat as the highpoint of the film.

I would also go so far to praise Ewan McGregor’s charismatic take on the character of Christopher Robin. Never is McGregor truly bad in any movie he’s in as with Christopher Robin, said statement is no different as he is truly likeable in this film. In fact, a lot of the technical aspects in Christopher Robin really worked and I don’t have many quarrels with how this film was practically designed, though what it came down to for me was story and what this film should have been as opposed to how it turned out.

(Debruge 2018)

Last year, in 2017, a film called Goodbye Christopher Robin was released which followed the true story of A.A. Milne as he came to write the first books based off his son, Christopher Robin, and his toy bear, Winnie-the-Pooh. From memory, the movie was fine and I still find it kind of weird concerning the timing of Disney’s decision to release Christopher Robin almost a year later. However, interestingly enough, despite both movies centring on Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh, the two films work as a fascinating companion piece to one another, focusing on themes regarding the importance of family and the threat of time and ageing, all amounting to the shattering of childhood innocence due to neglect or subtle transience. Goodbye Christopher Robin isn’t a great film, neither is it that ‘good’ anyway, but it does nail its themes and suitably does so due to encompassing a biopic like structure. Christopher Robin, meanwhile, almost stumbles upon these themes whilst trying (key word there: trying) to make a kid’s movie.

Christopher Robin is like if adults were invited to a kid’s party and ended up out numbering the children. The fun of the movie’s characters are just squeezed out of it, leaving a rather drab and dull attempt at childhood magic. Goodbye Christopher Robin was also dull and drab, and as result did not entirely work, but at least that tone and mood worked for said movie because it was based in reality. Christopher Robin should have been lighter and more colourful considering it’s a fantasy about a talking plush bear and a springy toy tiger. Instead, the whole colour palette for this movie was just so bland and lifeless. You would think, the sequences involving Pooh or the Hundred Acre Wood would appear more vibrant and sweet to contrast the dullness of reality, but no. Everything is shot the same. Everything is grey and everything looks partly deceased.

Yet, I would not say this film is ugly by any stretch. The movie still features some beautiful frames; it’s just that they are not enchanting. This is Winnie-the-Pooh – the filmmakers should have gone crazy on colour and magic to really make said childhood fantasy feel real.

Now, something that really irritated me about Christopher Robin that factions into my problem with the movie missing any sense of magic and fun, was the fact that Pooh and his friends (and real minor spoiler here) could be seen, but most importantly, heard by everyone outside of Christopher Robin. There’s no ambiguity to whether the creatures are figments of Robin’s imagination or childhood, they are just blatantly shown to be visible to everyone, which kind of ruins the fantasy for me. I mean, one of the best things about Christmas movies are that Santa is usually only visible to kids, because childhood is the fantasy that adults leave behind. I think Christopher Robin misses out on being a real gut-puncher of a film like Toy Story 3 by not completely understanding what not only made the characters special but also what made childhood such a magical experience.

The final act of this film was definitely my favourite part. The finale (and this is not a major spoiler) followed Christopher’s daughter, Madeline, as she teamed up with Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and Eeyore to venture to London to ‘save’ her father at work. Personally, I think this act should have been the whole movie. Think about it: the film should have followed the enchanted perspective of Madeline rather than the disenchanted perspective of Christopher. The film should have had Pooh approach Madeline to help save her father rather than have Pooh approach Christopher to save himself. The film’s narrative should have followed an adventure between Madeline, Pooh and the others as she learns more about her father’s adventures as a child and reveals her sadness that her father has no time for her. The film should have had the creatures only be able to communicate with Madeline and Madeline alone, so that by the time they meet with Christopher he doesn’t remember them and is unable to hear them; so therefore the film can end with Madeline helping Christopher to gradually remember and eventually reunite with his friends properly as a real gut-puncher ending when Christopher finally hears Pooh speak again. That would have worked. That would have been new and memorable. That would have made this film special. Not saying I am a Hollywood executive, but come on, surely you can agree a film along those lines would have been a better fit than what we got.

Thing is, I didn’t hate Christopher Robin: I think it just lacked magic and ore. The film isn’t terrible and you can still watch it without having any major problems with it. It’s just that you won’t feel misty eyed, you won’t feel a sense of joy and you won’t remember it for long after your screening of it. I wish this film had the fun spirit of Tigger, but without the Zen attitude of Pooh and instead the nervous characterisation of Piglet, Christopher Robin sits more along the lines of a drained and bored and Eeyore than anything else.

Christopher Robin sadly belongs in the… KINGDOM OF THE CRIMINALLY DULL…


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