Christopher Robin, Disney’s new Winnie-the-Pooh reboot, is designed for both adults and kids, providing a cautionary tale for grown-ups and a call to enjoy childhood for all its worth for the children. Director Marc Foster, along with writers Alex Ross Perry and Tom McCarthy, have crafted a film that is faithful to A.A. Milne’s wonderful characters and yet revises them in a clever and entertaining manner that is delightful.
There have been other movies such as Polar Express and Toy Story 3 that have explored the fraying connections between childhood and adulthood, that sad region when dreams start to expire and reality smacks us in the face. It is a most solemn realization that the wonder and imagination that once filled us as kids slowly evaporates, almost to the point that we can no longer recall how we managed to have so much joy from playing.
Foster’s Christopher Robin wisely does not explore the life of the real child, whose father created the most beloved characters of Winnie, Tigger, Piglet, Eyeore, and the rest based on the boy’s stuffed toys. The real-life Christopher’s story includes boarding school and serving during World War II, but afterwards veers off in a direction that would make for a much darker film.
We first see a young Christopher (Orton O’Brien) getting set to attend boarding school. Pooh (Jim Cummings) and the gang are having a party for the boy, and it features a typical round of silliness from the characters, with exquisite CGI making each one seem like realistically stuffed yet magically animated toys. I don’t think it has ever been made more obvious the Pooh and company are toys that come to life.
Once Pooh and Christopher go off together to say a true goodbye to one another, the sad unmistakable feeling of separation hovers over their conversation, and the truth of a parting that is possibly permanent is even suggested by Pooh, who asks if Christopher will forget him. Christopher scoffs at the notion and says, “Silly old bear” in a way that feels more final than it is meant to be.
We then get a flash forward with a cool turning of book pages to indicate Christopher’s move to boarding school, the death of his father, his meeting future wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell), his service during the war, and so on. It is a slick device to bring us up to the present moment in the storyline (which is set in 1950s London) when the now adult Christopher (a terrific Ewan MacGregor) is the efficiency manager of a luggage company and has allowed his work to negatively affect his relationship with Evelyn and daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichel).
During what is insinuated as yet another hard day at the office, Christopher is told that he must work the weekend and find a creative way to save money; otherwise, jobs will be lost and people will suffer. Although Christopher has plans to take his wife and daughter away for the weekend – to the very cottage where the gateway to The Hundred Acre Wood happens to be – he accepts that he must work in order to try to save the people in his department.
This is the first of a series of complications for our protagonist, as his wife and sweet daughter do not accept that Christopher cannot go off for the weekend. When he attempts to explain the situation to Madeline, she tries to understand and asks her father to read a book to her before bed. Christopher thoughtlessly picks up an encyclopedia and begins reading to her to prepare her for her own trip to boarding school, while she disappointedly hides Treasure Island under her pillow.
Once Evelyn and Madeline are off in the car to the cottage, Christopher tackles the task at hand and generates a plan after hours of work. On his way home he sneaks into a park to avoid an annoying neighbor, and here he encounters his childhood friend. Somehow Pooh has traveled from The Hundred Acre Wood through a tree into that London park.
Pooh encounters London with child-like fascination, while Christopher is overcome with emotion and awe that his old toy Pooh was not a long-ago figment of his imagination. MacGregor seamlessly interacts with Pooh and the rest of the gang, and the comic timing he once displayed playing Obi-Wan Kenobi is at the forefront here, and his flair for comedy is one of the highlights of the film.
Of course, MacGregor plays the titular character, but this is still a “Pooh” story, and all the beloved characters get a chance to shine, and brightly at that. Tigger (also voiced by Cummings), Piglet (Nick Mohammed), Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), Kanga (Sophie Okonedo), Roo (Sara Sheen), and Owl (Toby Jones) are all there and are a joy for parents and kids alike, but the most outstanding character is Eyeore (Brad Garrett makes every line a comic gem), the ever-depressed donkey who will make you burst out laughing every time he speaks.
Pooh somehow drags Christopher back to The Hundred Acre Wood in a quest to find his friends. For some reason they are all missing. The Hundred Acre Wood also seems sinister, shrouded in an eerie fog that makes one fear heffalumps or woozles will be hiding behind every tree. Besides being an effective visual, it also indicates the state of Christopher’s mind, clouded up after all these years and making him unable to appreciate life as he once did.
The rest is spoiler territory, and it would be unfair to ruin the fun of experiencing the film. The big questions to be answered are where are Winnie’s friends? Can Christopher help him find them? Will Christopher’s plan save the jobs of the people in his department? And, most importantly, can Christopher repair his relationship with Eveyln and Madeline before it’s too late?
The film makes one thing clearly understood – growing up sucks, but we don’t have to allow that to happen, even though the world seems to be saying “Grow up!” from the moment we are born. As Pooh and company work their magic upon Christopher and the audience, it is difficult not to want to be a kid again.
As someone who grew up loving Winnie-the-Pooh books and then having children who loved them too, Christopher Robin strikes all the right chords, with Pooh and his friends reminding us of what is important in life. I recommend that if you have children that you go see the film with them; the discussions you will have afterwards will make you glad that you did.