Trying hard and badly wanting to capture the childlike charm of A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh character, Christopher Robin is mixed and bothered. I have been looking forward to this movie for months. Credit goes to Disney’s marketing. Ads make it look as benevolent as Winnie the Pooh. Who better to direct than Marc Forster, who directed the London-based, fairy tale-themed Finding Neverland?
That was a dark and poignant film laced with a sense of wonder, which Christopher Robin lacks. Combining realism with fantasy in this case nixes the impact of both. Positioning the title character’s (Ewan MacGregor doing his best in a limited role) imaginary childhood friends as catalysts to rescue Robin’s inner child, a fine and lovely premise, the film, written by six writers, is unfocused and forced.
Each animal character is based on the original stories’ conjurings by A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard. Portrayals, lines and depictions of Tigger, Pooh and Eeyore are simply excellent. What they say is often amusing, witty and wise. Voices are superb. But the audience knows that the plot revolves around the London war veteran turned Winslow Luggage Company bean counter Christopher Robin. It’s a constricting, contradictory subplot.
Unfortunately, this turns out to be the main plot.
If the world of Winnie the Pooh originates in Christopher Robin’s imagination, and as an adult he’s joined the rat race and gone bad, lost himself or been damaged, then the characters rallying to save him amount to Christopher Robin saving himself. This could have been an outstanding angle.
But the writers instead inexplicably have the Hundred Acre Wood characters, such as Piglet, interact with other humans. Why characters imagined in Christopher Robin’s mind can be heard by others (let alone why they are stuffed, as against animated) makes no sense. It breaches the film’s sense of make-believe.
Worse, Christopher Robin deprives its main character of motivation; after all, if he is a louse, why ignore why he sold out, i.e., response to combat fatigue? Instead, Robin gets an unhappy wife (Hayley Atwell) and daughter. It’s as if a memo came down to put this movie together by formula, with directives to have a family and certain subsidiary themes, where a proper leading character motivation should have been.
In any case, the worlds do not mesh. Pooh’s is thoughtfully developed. Robin’s is not.
London is sufficiently rainy, foggy and gray and Christopher Robin looks true to period detail. But rendering Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, et al, as stuffed toys that can interact with everyone, meaning everyone in postwar Britain can see and hear the stuffed animals talk, diminishes their uniqueness.
Also, making capitalism seem incompatible with creativity further distances Robin from reality, making him harder to redeem. That Winslow’s big boss and industrial building are impressive suggest that the company rewards, not scorns, lean solutions, which contradicts the plot.
Bits about heffalumps and woozles play to facing one’s fears. Eeyore groans about having to go with the flow…toward self-destruction. Pooh asks Christopher Robin whether it’s time to let go. There’s greatness buried here, showing that Christopher Robin could’ve been like the intelligent riddle it wants to be.
But the movie splits with rationality again and again. “It’s our job to prepare her for life,” Robin says about his child to his wife at one point during a setup for the climax. This is apparently intended as evidence that he’s stiff and uptight. It is exactly a parent’s role to prepare a child for life. This includes and fully aligns with imagination.
Whomever is in charge of this film doesn’t know it.
A postscript about end credits: many of today’s movies include plugs, tie-ins and extra scenes or bloopers. I choose not to account for these. Such snippets are extraneous as far as I’m concerned and do not merit mention, let alone evaluation. If they amount to a plot point, they ought to have been included in the film. Not after The End.