I think it’s safe to say that most people, at some point in their lives, have had some kind of exposure to the tales of Winnie The Pooh and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood. The books are old as dirt and Disney has been making film adaptations of them since the 60s, of which I have seen only a few. Even still, everyone is familiar with the characters and their iconic looks, the least of which being forest patriarch Christopher Robin. Despite being a boring dweeb, we wouldn’t have the stories of the Hundred Acre Wood without his role as auxiliary protagonist and best friend to Pooh. To make a film (that is live action, no less) about his growing up and rediscovering his childhood sense of wonder is certainly an interesting idea, but to balance adult drama with kid friendly soft-reboot hijinks is never easy, and this film here starring Ewan McGregor barely manages to pull that off – but it sure is cute about it.
After a cold open of the gang seeing Christopher Robin off to boarding school, throughout the opening credits we are treated to some dour visual storytelling that explains how the fun-loving lad lost his way. A tough boarding school, his dad dying early, fighting in the war, and working to support his family has squashed Christopher Robin’s sense of childlike wonder to the point where he imposes this same strict lifestyle onto his daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael), much to the chagrin of his ignored wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell). He even chooses to not go with his family to his old summer cottage (where the Hundred Acre Woods are, no less) to instead figure out how to best fire people at his job. While his family is gone, who else should show up but Winnie The Pooh himself, inexplicably appearing in London to look for his friends. While Pooh wants Christopher Robin’s help, all he wants to do is to return Pooh home so he can return to his work.
One of the first things you’ll notice about this film is how dramatic it looks. This isn’t a serious film by any means, but the cinematography makes this movie look like a Terrance Malik film, and for what it’s worth it’s beautiful. Sunset-lit trees silhouetted against the clear summer sky; a child’s hand wistfully passing over a field of tall grass; Pooh walking through the misty woods in a long shot; it’s a very over the top way to heavily accent the wondrous feeling of childlike innocence and nostalgia. To director Marc Forster’s credit, this visual style gives the film more depth than is probably worth investing by using simple but subtle visual cues to deepen the protagonist, to the benefit of the film as a whole. The story as written is very predictable from beginning to end, but the cinematography helps make the film universally accessible by giving the adults and children beautiful and interesting-looking shots, as well as easy to follow visual cues. Christopher Robin’s world, visually and morally, becomes increasingly enveloped by darker and murkier greys, greens, and browns when he is all work and no play, but then he and the audience experience the return of color when Christopher Robin allows himself to have fun in the Hundred Acre Wood with his friends; although ironically Winnie The Pooh and Tigger don’t carry the same vibrant color scheme they have on the poster.
The film is a bit confusing when it comes to acknowledging whether Winnie The Pooh and company are real or not. For a while, given the way scenes of them in London are directed, it feels as if Forster wants an intentional ambiguity, but then I realized I was crazy overthinking this and remembered that this film is about the fictional Christopher Robin, so why couldn’t they be real (even though how Pooh gets to London still makes no sense)? This probably goes without saying, but Winnie The Pooh and his friends are the best part of the whole movie. It’s genuinely very cute to see their characters nailed to a tee while interacting in a whole new environment. They deliver the best jokes in the movie just from being themselves and interacting in a manner that feels realistic and natural, not by resorting to crass and low-brow humor and pop culture references like similarly premised kids films from other studios. Even their timing is perfect when you realize how well-placed their humor is in between the more serious moments, and careful consideration is clearly given to which characters to focus on at certain points in the film.
However, the biggest thing that keeps me from considering this a great movie is the fact that the story is incredibly predictable. Like I said before, the premise of bringing nostalgic animated fantastical characters to our live-action real world has been done before and worse, but even so you know exactly what is going to happen to Christopher Robin, from the opening scene of him as a child at a picnic in the Hundred Acre Wood. Even with the nice, albeit a tad vapid, visuals I can’t deny that I definitely got bored at a point in the latter half of the movie and I could’ve sworn I saw two other kids in the theater looking the same way. The film plays fast and loose with its continuity, and the “suspenseful” third act suspiciously evokes memories of the recent Paddington films with cartoonishly bombastic performances and camerawork. On top of all this, even if I was overthinking this or not, it feels like the film wants to be more contemplative and methodical about its character study, but is held back by them needing to keep this a kid’s film. I mean COME ON with that Malik-ass cinematography. No offense, but this movie did not need to be shot this well or directed with as much effort as it was. It could’ve been boring and forgettable and we all could have moved on, but no. People genuinely cared about wanting to make this a good Winnie The Pooh movie and even attempted to throw in anti-capitalist/socialist themes (even though this a Disney movie, so take that with a lump of salt). At worst, this film is like a clumsy cross between Spike Jonze’s Where The Wild Things Are (2010) and Paddington – at best this is a solid continuation of the Winnie The Pooh franchise and is worth seeing at your leisure.
Despite being mostly for kids, Christopher Robin offers a decently entertaining experience for adults. The cinematography, despite being a tad cheesy, is gorgeous, and the film completely delivers on the fun and cute Winnie The Pooh content.