In the trend of new versions of Disney classics, the ones that have been re-imaginings rather than straight up remakes have often been the most interesting. Whilst I wasn’t a fan of Maleficent, I appreciated what it was trying to do, whilst Pete’s Dragon is a genuinely excellent film and I can’t wait to see what David Lowery does with Peter Pan. Christopher Robin is a different beast though, being a re-imagining in the form of a sequel to the original Winnie the Pooh stories with Christopher Robin grown up. Now in some ways this does lead to some great moments, but the cliches of films like this (most notably Hook) come into play here.
Set about 30 years after the original Winnie the Pooh stories, the film focuses on an older Christopher Robin, who has lost the sense of fun in his life, being more focused on work than family. When a work crisis forces him to miss a weekend away with his family, he starts to fall into a sense of depression. At this time, Pooh comes back into his life, looking for Robin to help him find his friends who have gone missing, with Robin and Pooh’s journey allowing Robin to rediscover the joy in his life and help him to connect with his daughter. Now the whole character arc of Christopher Robin is insanely predictable from the moment the film starts. There is nothing new about it that wasn’t seen in any other film about a workaholic dad (even the ending is straight from Mary Poppins) but the way it’s executed gives the film a bit of an advantage. Firstly, by having Robin be a war veteran, there is a bit more of a logical reason for his nature, although this is something I wish was explored more, and the relationship between Robin and his daughter feels believable for a workaholic dad caring more about his daughters greatness that happiness. What really works about the film though is the heart it has every time Pooh and his friends are on screen. There isn’t really any development to them but there doesn’t need to be. They are there as a reminder of what is lost as you grow older and act as a reminder to the character to not lose sight on the simple joys in life and to remember to have fun. It even gets a bit philosophical at points through Pooh’s thoughts, acting as a good starting point to embrace what happens and to let yourself go with the flow of life.
The cast as well help with giving the film it’s heart. Ewan McGregor as Christopher Robin is great, showing the charming nature of the character and how he was forced to grow up too quickly and how he has forgot the need for his daughter to have fun. He gives the sense that being sent away to boarding school and the war removed most of the joy in his life and whilst his wife and daughter have helped him, there is a hole in there, which could only be filled by Pooh. The scene’s where Robin has fun again are great showcases for the physical comedy talent of McGregor and the sense of joy he has passes to the audience well. Hayley Atwell as Evelyn, Robin’s wife is charming, but underused, Mark Gatiss is a bit too over the top in his villainous role and Bronte Carmichael is charming as Robin’s daughter Madeline, selling the frustration over Robin being absent and her overworked nature well. One issue I had with the live action cast though is the complete wasting of Simon Farnaby, Matt Berry and Mackenzie Crook who share one scene together, but don’t get much to do, to the point where I didn’t realise Berry and Crook were in the film until reading the credits. The voice cast though are what really give the film it’s charm. Jim Cummings is really the only person who could have played Pooh and Tigger. Given how he has voiced the characters for over 30 years, he has the characters down and the way he delivers the dialogue as Pooh is heartwarming, giving this air of friendship and comfort and his innocent nature gives the dialogue a greater degree of weight. As Tigger meanwhile, Cummings is a lot of fun, showing the exuberant nature of the character and Disney made the right choice replacing the originally cast Chris O’Dowd with Cummings. Brad Garrett is also a lot of fun as Eeyore showing the gloomy nature of the character well and getting some of the best lines in the film that I can’t describe other than being quintessentially Eeyore lines. Nick Mohammed as Piglet, Peter Capaldi as Rabbit, Toby Jones as Owl and Sophie Okonedo as Kanga are incredibly charming as well, but aren’t quite used as much as I wanted (especially Capaldi and Jones).
On a technical level, the film is impressive. The set design does a good job at creating both a believable late 1940s London, whilst the Hundred Acre Wood just has this sense of wonder and joy to it, showing why Robin was able to have so much fun. The animation and designs of Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga and Roo meanwhile definitely shows the soft toy roots of the characters. They are very recognisably the characters we love and the animation for them conveys so much character and charm that just makes you feel so warm watching them.
Overall, whilst the plot is incredibly generic and some of the cast are wasted, I had a good time with Christopher Robin, mainly due to the charm it has. It was a bit more melancholic than I expected but the charm of Ewan McGregor and especially Jim Cummings gives the film so much life and joy.
My Rating: 3.5/5