I grew up reading Winnie the Pooh, books and watching the films. I learned that taking care of my friends was important, telling the truth brings good things, that there’s never a bad time to have honey, and why walk when you can bounce.
Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Rabbit, Roo, and Eeyore were some of the best gifts my parents ever gave me, so it didn’t even take a trailer to interest me in a return to The Thousand Acre Wood.
It’s mid-century London and Christopher Robin’s (Ewan McGregor) all grow up with a wife and daughter of his own. But the pressure and stress of ‘adulting’ have made him an uptight, workaholic with little time to live the life he’s so busy trying to fund.
He’s the efficiency manager at a luggage company and not only does his job not call for a sense of play, the economic downturn means if he can’t find a way to cut expenses people will soon be facing the unemployment line.
On the home front, Christopher’s narrow focus on work is alienating his wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and making him blind to his daughter Madaline’s (Bronte Campbell) feelings. Christopher Robin is in deeper trouble than he realizes because they’re just about fed up.
After canceling plans (again) to go to the country Christopher finds himself home alone for the weekend struggling to find a solution to doesn’t include firing people.
His work-weekend gets interrupted when his old friend Winne the Pooh shows up in London in need of his help.
Christopher Robin is abrupt, impatient, and disenchanted. He no longer believes in Woozles or Heffalumps (seriously if your childhood didn’t include making a Heffalump trap, I’m sorry) and has little time for the frivolous let alone a silly bear out of place in the big city. One thing keeps all this heavy from drowning out the underlying shine of Pooh’s reappearance, Christopher Robin never once thinks he’s hallucinating a talking bear.
Now, if this feels like a heavy story set-up, you’d be correct. That is not to say that it’s never-ending dreary and dim tale. But, Christopher Robin doesn’t shy away from the realities of life that creep in to strip away the lessons and joy of childhood as many struggles to navigate adulthood. If you give it a minute to settle, you realize it’s really not out of line with some of the deeper lessons embedded in past animated Winnie the Pooh stories and films.
However, this is not a film for the very young unless you enjoy being distracted from the screen by an antsy kid.
The touching opening sequence in The Thousand Acre Wood will certainly delight and captivate the very young – since it’s your first look at the live-action versions of Pooh and the gang – but the film swiftly segues into much darker adult themes that will see audience members under 7 (and adults who don’t like to work for their entertainment pay-off) checking out for parts.
This story digs deep into the aspects of life in a post-war world that’s a lot greyer and tougher than the one Christopher Robin left behind. Remember, it’s an adventure of rediscovery. There’s always the morose and murky to work through on the way to happiness. Because this time around Christopher Robin is the one who needs to be saved.
Personally, I can’t think of a better way to (re)introduce the characters who inhabit this world.
The ensuing journey first by Christopher Robin to return Pooh to his home and find the rest of the inhabitants of The Thousand Acre Wood and then Pooh and the gang’s return trip with Madeline into the city in search of her father is a weird and twisty tale filled with just enough frivolousness to make the film’s lessons gently hit home.
Under Marc Forster’s direction, Christopher Robin is a story of ever-increasingly warm and connection. From the opening animated montages that guide you through Christopher Robin’s journey to adulthood to Madeline’s the mad dash through London streets accompanied by talking stuffed animals, the vibe and story progression blends great visuals with action with a full range of emotion on display by the entire cast.
The more grown-up tone may take a bit of adjusting for those used to the brightly colored and more bouncy (pun intended) world of the animated Winnie the Pooh but the look and (at turns) more ominous feel to the worldbuilding creates a dynamic and layered story arc jam-packed with wit, whimsy, and adventure. It’s a slow build carried beautifully with dry humor, high irony, a decidedly English sensibility that just seems fitting.
You laugh, frown and if you’re a parent possibly recognize more than one of the deflection tactics he uses to put off his daughter, disappoint his wife, or careless hurt a bear’s feelings along the way. Kids in the audience will giggle and groan as Pooh and the gang risk leaving the woods to hilariously venture forth through London to “save” Christopher Robin.
The voices actors in this film cannot be phenomenal. Jim Cummings as Winnie the Pooh fully embodies everything iconic about the bear and his turn as the effervescent Tigger is spot on – there’s one moment, in particular, that will have you all smiles it’s so damn perfect. Three-time Emmy winner Brad Garre hits a perfect note as the morose and fatalistic Eeyore, with Golden Globe nominee Toby Jones as Owl, Nick Mohammed as Piglet, Oscar winner Peter Capaldi as Rabbit and Oscar nominee and Tony Award winner Sophie Okonedo gamely rounding out the group as Kanga (Roo).
I’m unsure if this film would’ve worked with any other cast as the Robin family. Ewan McGregor makes you believe in his struggle and awkward cluelessness, Hayley Atwell is beautifully subtle and refreshing as a woman with an open heart but almost exhausted patience and Bronte Campbell is endearing and believable as a little girl who just wants her father’s time and attention.
As the story builds – and life and color banish the gloom in The Thousand Acre Wood – and Christopher Robin confronts his shortcomings these integral moments are equal parts charming and heartwarming. Don’t be fooled by the trailers, Christopher Robin isn’t all sweetness and light and both the film and you are left better for it.
Christopher Robin brings the best of the lessons of Pooh and marries it to a tale about remembering to cherish the life you have by living it while it’s happening. It’s a timely reminder from beloved characters that life is to be lived and more than a little low-key shade toss at the “success at all cost” work ethic draining the life at more than a few of us.
This is a worthy addition to the legacy of A.A. Milne and illustrator E.H. Shepard.
You can always get where you’re going by walking away from where you’ve been…
Rating 3 out of 5