THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I’ve stated many times before, I’m a huge fan of all things Disney. Growing up with various forms of the company (i.e. animated movies and cartoon shorts / shows), Disney has a part of my life (and still) as I’m…. what they call…. young at heart. Like what Walt Disney said “Movies can and do have tremendous influence in shaping young lives in the realm of entertainment towards the ideals and objectives of normal adulthood”. I guess I’m living proof of that mantra. In the realm of movies, Disney’s feature films (both animated and live-action) have always been a very dear to me, exploring both the whimsical and fanciful cinematic adventures in both properties that are familiar and or unknown. Naturally, the former is what I talking about, especially with Disney’s recent endeavor in translating their classic animated movies into live-action films. While some of the earlier feature films (under this new live-action banner) were mediocre (Alice in Wonderland was bit too much CGI and Maleficent was tonal unbalanced), everything from Cinderellato Beauty and the Beast has been fantastic and cinematically great. Each one has their own strengths of which I like, but Beauty and the Beast is my personal favorite. I think that one is the best one as it probably the clearest and most faithful representation of the original Disney classic…right down to the songs and musical score melodies. In short, with other live-action remakes already in the pipeline (i.e. Dumbo, Lion King, Aladdin, and Mulan), it would seem that Disney isn’t slow down on their live-action adaptations endeavor anytime soon.
Of course, this brings me back to talking about Christopher Robin, the latest live-action remake from Disney. Naturally, I’ve heard a lot of pre-release “buzz” about this movie online. I think I first heard about this movie during early 2016 (as I was gearing up to see The Jungle Book) and was somewhat intrigued by, especially since I grew up watching Winne the Pooh (i.e. The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh). Then I heard about some of the actors who were gonna be attached to the project (as well as the voice talents). Then I saw the film’s trailers and I feel in love, falling back into childhood nostalgia of seeing Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, and the rest of the Hundred Acre Wood gang in a whole new way that has never been done before…. presented in a live-action film (with the usage of CG visuals, of course). Given the context of 2017’s film Goodbye Christopher Robin, which was more a theatrical inception of A.A. Milne’s creation of Winnie the Pooh (and the rest of characters), Disney’s Christopher Robin seemed to promise more childish memories of these characters, which definitely intrigued me to see the film when it came out. Naturally, I went to go see anyway because I review movies, but also because I like everything Disney related. So…. what did I think of it? Well, I liked and put a smile on my face. While it does falter in some areas, Christopher Robin is charming movie that tells of a classic story that’s filled with heart and soul (and that’s a good thing). It’s not the absolute best in Disney’s recent live action adaptations, but is still a welcomed one that give you that inner warm fuzzy feeling or reuniting with some adorable childhood friends.
Christopher Robin is directed by Marc Foster, whose previous directorial works include Finding Neverland, Quantum of Solace, and World War Z. Given his more gravitas projects of the past, Foster makes Christopher Robin somewhat vaguely like Finding Neverland (in both tone and style) when approach from a director’s perspective. While the film isn’t as grand (in both size and scope) in comparison Disney’s recent live-action remakes like The Jungle Book or Beauty and the Beast, Foster succeeds by making Christopher Robin a small-scale endeavor, providing enough mischief and charming throughout the feature’s runtime, which is relatively short (and tight) in around 104 minutes long. To be quite frank, any iteration of Winnie the Pooh should not be grand as that would lose any emotional integrity to its source material, so I’m that fortunately Foster didn’t “go big or go home” with Christopher Robin. In truth, there’s plenty of nostalgia feel throughout the movie, with Foster crafting the film with a sort of heart and soul feel that alludes to childhood and what it meant for the character of Christopher Robin. Personally, I felt that connection as well and it was great to see Pooh and friends once again…after so many years.
Additionally, the film’s script, which was penned by Alex Ross Perry, Tom McCarthy, and Allison Schroeder with a story by Greg Booker and Mark Steve Johnson, has a lot to say with some pretty common (and meaningful themes) that Christopher Robin (the film) carries. The sweet nature of innocence of childhood and the juxtaposing thoughts of more responsible / harsh life of adulthood is at the heart of the film’s story and wrestling with those ideas is something quite fundamental to us all. Like what Christopher Robin learns in the movie, one must (essentially) look back in order to move forward. Sounds quite poetic, but it’s a good theme, with his reunion of his Hundred Acre Woods’s friends being the catalyst that drives that point home. Although, these heavy ideas are presented in a playful manner that a child could understand its meaning, making Christopher Robin accessible to all ages (regardless if you grew up with Winne the Pooh in the 40s and 50s or just learning about Pooh Bear and friends). In short, the movie has something for everyone.
As a technical presentation, Christopher Robin has that quality to it that Disney has recently put into its recent high profile live-action adaptation. It doesn’t have the super elaborate production designs like Beauty and the Beast or the intricate CG visual effects details like The Jungle Book, but Christopher Robin has that “storybook” feel that’s a mixture of an arthouse piece. It’s kind of like that magical feel that wrapped together in a sort of dreary realism (i.e. blending childhood vs. adulthood). So, I do have to mention cinematography work by Matthias Koenigswieser (for his interesting camera angles and usage of lighting effects) as well as the production designs by Jennifer Williams and several members of the art department for creating such “magical realism” scene in Christopher Robin. Another technical group I should mention is the entire visual effects team and the amazing job they did in bringing Pooh Bear and the Hundred Acre Woods gang to life in their first live-action endeavor. Rather than just making them look like the standard CG iterations one might expect from a recent feature film from current Hollywood, the visual wizards in Christopher Robin make these beloved characters have a look and feel that’s very distinct to old-time toy dolls for kids (i.e. a bit worn down, but still cute and fuzzy). I absolutely love how all the Hundred Acre Woods character look in the movie. It’s just incredible visual effects (at least I think so). Additionally, the film’s editing by Matt Cheese and costume designs by Sally Turner and Jenny Bevean should also be mentioned, bringing both a tight edit of the feature (again, the film is pretty breezy and short) and in the appropriate time period costume attire for majority of the human characters. Lastly, the film’s musical score, which was composed by Jon Brion and Geoff Zanelli, is a beautifully one, filled with sweet melodies and light touches that had that “extra” layer of background setting in making the movie enjoyable.
However, Christopher Robin does struggle at certain points, which keep the feature from reaching its utmost and fullest potential. Perhaps the most notable one is the actually narrative being told and how the structure of it all is quite a commonplace one. With the film being presented as a quasi-sequel adventure (again…. taking place sometime after the main events of the story that we all know and love), the idea of it all seems to formulaic as this scenario has been done many times before, including such similar films using it like Stephen Spielberg’s 1991 Hook or Tim Burton’s 2010 Alice in Wonderland. You know what I am talking about…. a story thread of seeing an older hero main character returning back to the world he once knew and must reconnect with the past (to move forward in the present). It’s a proven storytelling arc, but it’s really a formulaic and common one to used and Christopher Robin’s multiple story / screen writers don’t really bring anything relatively new to this narrative arc, which hinders the movie. Thus, it’s easily to spot when plot points are gonna happen miles before they arrive, which makes the film predictable in nature and (again) doesn’t propel the movie from working outside the parameters of cinematic narrative story arc.
Furthermore, the narrative arc of the classic semi-oblivious parental figure who works too much is another example of another conventional narrative path that has been done before (multiple times) and Christopher Robin doesn’t really do anything new per se to this storytelling device that has already done before. Personally, the story was okay, but I would’ve liked to see something more different. To me, I would’ve been more interesting to see this sort of live-action classic iteration of Winnie-the-Pooh, with a younger Christopher Robin (sort of like a “lost tale” from the Hundred Acre Woods). Thus (to sum this problem up), Christopher Robin plays it safe within its narrative and could’ve been so much better than what was theatrically presented in a conventional story structure.
Another problem is the movie is not as “whimsy” as I was expecting it to be. Yes, it’s still a kid’s movie (rated PG) and still has the child-ish nuances throughout (most notably in almost every time Winne-the-Pooh is on-screen), but I was expecting a bit more whimsical aspect, especially coming from such a beloved childhood story (and all its iterations). There’s plenty to like about this movie, but there’s more parts that a bit drearier (cinematically speaking) rather than cheerful fancifulness. There’s even some subtext substance that movie doesn’t explore, including Christopher’s time served in WWII. Additionally, the third act of the film is a bit clunky with the feature resolves its ending problem in (again) a sort of conventional manner rather than something more original or cinematically creative.
The cast in Christopher Robin is a solid one, with plenty of recognizable faces and voice talents that populate the film’s various characters (major, minor, or voiceover work). Perhaps the most notable ones in the film are the voices that bring the beloved Hundred Acre Woods characters, with the absolute best being Winne the Pooh, who is voiced by actor Jim Cummings. Known for his various animated voiceover works, including voicing Pooh Bear in various projects, Cummings is hands down the best vocal iteration Winne the Pooh, projecting pitch perfect example of the soft-spoken polite bear that always gets into a sticky situation. It was really terrific and amazing to hear Cumming doing the voice of Pooh again, especially since I grew up watching doing the voice in the cartoon TV series The New Adventure of Winnie the Pooh as well as playing the Kingdom Hearts video games. Additionally (by extension), Cummings also provides the voice of Tigger (the one and only) and does a great job in bringing the exuberant animal to life (especially when he sings the famous “Tigger” song). Behind Cummings’s Pooh and Tigger, actor Brad Garett (Everybody Loves Raymond and Casper) provides the voice for the downbeat character of Eeyore. While I was initial upset that voice actor Peter Cullen (the voice behind Optimus Prime in various Transformers projects) wasn’t casted to voice Eeyore in Christopher Robin (Cullen has done voiceover work for Eeyore many times before on multiple Winne the Pooh endeavors), but Garett’s low humdrum sounding voice is perfect as Eeyore in the movie and definitely nails every line he’s given. Thus, making Eeyore memorable (of which he usually is) in Christopher Robin. Behind Garrett, actor Nick Mohammed (The Martian and The Sense of an Ending) provides the voice for Piglet and certainly does provide the correct amount of the nervous / timid voice for the small stature Hundred Acre Wood creature. The remaining Hundred Acre Woods characters, including Rabbit, who is voiced by actor Peter Capaldi (Doctor Who and The Musketeers), Owl, who is voiced by actor Toby Jones (The Painted Veil and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), Kanga, who is voiced by actress Sophie Okonedo (Aeon Flux and Hotel Rwanda), and Roo, who is voiced by actress Sara Sheen (making her debut with Christopher Robin) are in the movie, but are, more or less, secondary characters against Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, and Eeyore. All of them (Capaldi, Jones, Okonedo, and Sheen) give great vocal performances to these characters…. it’s just sad that they weren’t more in the movie.
Of the live-action actors / actresses in Christopher Robin, actor Ewan McGregor does the absolute best as the film’s central main character (the title character of the feature) Christopher Robin. Known for his roles in Trainspotting, Moulin Rouge!, and Angels & Demons, McGregor is terrific as the older (adult) version of Christopher, equally displaying the right amount of stuffy adult exterior, but is still able to show the whimsy innocence childhood later on in the film. While the character basis of Christopher (i.e. being a semi- uncaring / oblivious father figure) is conventional for storytelling, McGregor’s performance elevates Christopher Robin in making him likeable. Plus, the scenes where he interacts with the Hundred Acre Wood’s characters (most notable Pooh) are great. In short, McGregor’s performance as Christopher Robin is quite endearing. As a side-note, young actor Orton O’Brien (Making Noise Quietly) does a pretty good job as the younger version of Christopher Robin. He’s only a little bit in the movie, but his interaction with the characters from the Hundred Acre Woods are amazing. To me, he’s like the perfect iteration of the young Christopher Robin (again…. wish the movie followed young Christopher Robin adventure in the Hundred Acre Woods).
In more supporting roles, actress Haley Atwell (Captain America: The First Avenger and Howard’s End) plays the role of Christopher Robin’s wife Evelyn. While I do love Atwell as an actress and her performance in the movie is endearing, yet the character of Evelyn seems slightly irrelevant beyond a few snippets here and there. In truth, she’s not fully fleshed out as is mostly just Christopher’s concerned wife. Behind her and fairing slightly better (character build-wise), is the character Madeline Robin (the daughter of Christopher and Evelyn), who is played actress Bronte Carmichael (Nightflyers and On Chesil Beach). She’s cute, sweet, and does have a good sense of the plot (as a catalyst of sorts), earning her a more prominent place in the movie than Atwell’s Evelyn. Behind those two, is actor Mark Gatiss (Game of Thrones and Sherlock) who plays the role of Giles Winslow, Christopher Robin’s boss at Winslow Luggage. Gatiss has that right amount of that snooty British upper class / management attitude, which works for his character of Giles, but he also has the right amount of being slightly goofy / comical edge in making his part memorable in Christopher Robin (as a semi-antagonist of the feature).
The rest of the cast, including actress Ronke Adekoluejo (Cold Feet and Chewing Gum) as Katherine Dane, actor Adrian Scarborough (Gosford Park and Notes on a Scandal) as Hal Gallsworthy, actor Roger Aston-Griffiths (Game of Thronesand The Tudors) as Ralph Butterworth, actor Ken Nwosu (Killing Eve and Cold Blow Lane) as Paul Hastings, actor John Dagleish (Starlings and Lark Rise to Candleford) as Matthew Leadbetter, actress Amanda Lawrence (Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Suffragette) as Joan MacMillan, and Oliver Ford Davies (Johnny English and Kavanagh QC) as Old Man Winslow (Giles’s father)are in more minor supporting roles in Christopher’s work of Winslow Luggage in Christopher Robin, offering some good smaller character roles that fill most throughout the film.
Winnie the Pooh and his friends from the Hundred Acre Woods help their dear friend reconnect with his childhood past in the movie Christopher Robin. Director Marc Foster’s latest film sees the beloved characters from Winnie the Pooh story return, sharing in a story of returning to what was lost and learning what it means to be young at heart. While the movie’s story is conventional and does stumble in various parts (be it pacing, tone, or narrative), the film still succeeds in offering up plenty of nostalgia, heart and, warmth throughout the film with majority of the cast (most notably the voice actors) providing solid efforts on their endeavors. To me, this movie was quite charming and enjoyable. It could’ve been tweaked here and there and I still would’ve rather see a more classic Winnie-the-Pooh tale (with a younger Christopher Robin), but the film presented was just as heartfelt and had an overall sincere gentleness that resonated with inner childhood and I’m pretty sure that it will resonate with everyone’s inner childhood who grew up with Winnie-the-Pooh. Thus, I would give this movie my “recommended” stamp of approval as it has something for everyone (both younger viewers and those young at heart). In the end, Christopher Robin is another solid addition to Disney’s recent live-action adaptations, filled with heart and nostalgia that will make this return journey to the Hundred Acre Woods like revisiting some old childhood friends.
4.0 Out of 5 (Recommended)