Silly ol’ movie. Disney’s latest live-action re-imagination of a classic property is Christopher Robin, directed by Marc Forster with a story and screenplay by several writers. And that is likely where the fault lies with a movie that should have been heartwarming and magical. Although the movie has a whimsical fancy about it, and there are moments that will tug at your heartstrings, those moments are very few. It is as if each contributor to the story/screenplay had his or her own idea of how to handle a middle-aged Christopher Robin returning to the Hundred Acre Wood; but instead of selecting one story, one plot, we have bits and pieces of the different takes on how to write a story dealing with a rediscovery of the inner child and realizing that friends and family are more important than work. Plots such as the aforementioned are commonplace, almost cliche. So, it needed a fresh take on it. Needless to say, the movie plays it safe and paints by number. Not to say the film is not without its accolades. The quality of the CGI for Pooh and his fellow Hundred Acre Wood residents is outstanding. There are moments that you forget that they are not actually real. However, I am confused as to why Owl and Rabbit are based on real animals whereas the others are based on stuffed animals–that decision is a little odd. Suffice it to say, the best scenes in the movie are the ones with Pooh, because McGregor’s Christopher Robin ultimately fails to genuinely connect with the audience. Although the past iterations of Winnie-the-Pooh (animated and live action) have more heart than this film, you can still enjoy waxing nostalgic as the film takes you back to the Hundred Acre Wood and displays a little heart despite the cumbersome story.
Faced with having to find 20% in cuts at the Winslow Luggage Company or be forced to lay off a significant number of employees, Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) is forcibly asked to work the weekend to prepare for a big presentation Monday morning. Unfortunately, that means he has to send his family away to his boyhood countryside home without him. When his childhood best friend Winnie-the-Pooh pays him a surprise visit in London, Pooh asks that Christopher return to the Hundred Acre Wood in order to help find Tigger, Piglet, Rabbit, Eeyore, Owl, Kanga, and Roo. Resistant at first, Christopher Robin returns to the wood where he spent most of his early childhood. It is in these whimsical woods that he is reminded of the child he once was. But after finding Pooh’s friends, Christopher Robin must return to London for his big meeting. Returning all the help and friendship Christopher Robin showed the Hundred Acre Wood all throughout his childhood, Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, and Piglet embark on an xpadition to London in order to help Christopher Robin to rediscover the joy of life.
At its core, Winnie-the-Pooh author A.A. Milne would likely approve of the story Forster attempted to tell. Unfortunately, Milne would likely be unhappy with the final product. “Too many hands in the pot will spoil the sauce.” When a film or movie has multiple writers contributing to the story and screenplay (in this case 7), the plot typically suffers from too many ideas and too little direction. Clearly the movie is trying to be a cross between Finding Neverland and Hook. Two excellent models to follow for rediscovering childhood magic, Christopher Robin would have benefited from relying upon one or two writers to extract the best elements of the aforementioned and use them as supporting structure upon which to build the present Winnie-the-Pooh concept. For those of us who are familiar with Winnie-the-Pooh through the years from the books, TV shows, and theme park attractions, the story includes many nods to past stories and contains several Easter eggs. And these will be some of the fondest moments from the film. There is one pounding question left from the film. And that is whether or not Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends are toys that have come to life or actual living creatures that Christopher Robin abandoned, which complicates what it means for Christopher to leave them behind for more than three decades. It also doesn’t help matters any that Christopher comes across as a jerk, and not older equivalent of Toy Story‘s Andy who brought tears to our eyes.
A far riskier plot, but one that allows for more introspect, is the one used in 2017’s Goodbye Christopher Robin. In short, Goodbye Christopher Robin takes audiences on a journey that explores the literary success of author A.A. Milne and the estranged relationship with his son who came to resent the character of Pooh. Emotional depth is missing from Christopher Robin. Much of the mild emotional connection between the audience and the characters feels forced. So, yes there is a bit of a relationship between the audience and the characters but not enough of one that takes you on the journey that this film could have been. Some of this lack of a connection can be explained by spending way too much time in the factory to the point it feels tedious. Imagine if you will, spending most of Mary Poppins at the bank? That is precisely what you have here. Another aspect to the film that takes away from its ability to successfully connect with the audience is the lazy plot device used to get Christopher Robin back to the Hundred Acre Wood. His own daughter and wife couldn’t get him to spend even a day in the countryside, but he quickly decides to return once he encounters Winnie-the-Pooh on a park bench. The story would have been so much more compelling and the childlike wonder could have been increased if Robin’s daughter stumbled across the Hundred Acre Wood to discover her father’s drawings were of real creatures. And together with Pooh’s friends, Robin’s daughter could have been more instrumental in helping her father rediscover the joys of life.
The overall message of this film is to “do nothing.” Although it is explained what that means, it is not terribly constructive. There was such potential here to comment on friendship and family, but the movie barely moves beyond the surface level. Moreover, Christopher Robin struggles to connect the audience to the characters and make Robin a relatable character with whom you can sufficiently empathize. You will definitely enjoy the moments in the movie that feature Robin and Pooh together and nods to the past Pooh stories. And Tigger even sings his song! Whereas I never felt on the verge of tears, I enjoyed the moments that made me smile and giggle. I just wish there were more of those.