CHRISTOPHER ROBIN

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Marc Forster

Stars: Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael, Mark Gatiss, Oliver Ford Davies, Adrian Scarborough, Orton O’Brien, voices of Jim Cummings, Brad Garrett, Toby Jones, Peter Capaldi, Sophie Okonedo, Nick Mohammed.

Ewan McGregor and Jim Cummings in Christopher Robin (2018)This is the second film this year to focus on A A Milne’s enduring and endearing creation of Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh and the other creatures that inhabited the fictional Hundred Acre Wood. It follows Goodbye Christopher Robin, a drama that explored how Milne’s classic children’s tale stole his son’s childhood and innocence and the troubled family dynamics at play behind the creative spirit. This new film gives us another look at the importance of family, friendship, paternal responsibility, the importance of imagination and childhood fantasies and is a bit more upbeat.

When the film opens with an animated sequence that is lifted from The House At Pooh Corner. Winnie the Pooh (voiced by long time animation voice talent Jim Cummings) is hanging around with the young Christopher, enjoying a picnic of honey with his friends. Then Christopher leaves to attend boarding school, and despite his promises he soon forgets about his childhood friends.

Then the film moves forward in time to a dreary post-WWII London, where the adult Christopher Robin (Trainspotting’s Ewan McGregor) works as an efficiency manager for the Winslow Company, a luggage manufacturing firm that is struggling. Christopher is married to Evelyn (Hayley Atwell), a talented architect, and the couple have a bright nine-year old daughter Madeline (newcomer Bronte Carmichael). Due to demands of work and a deadline imposed by his self-serving and unctuous boss Giles Winslow jr (Mark Gatiss, better known as one quarter of comedy team The League Of Gentlemen, and also as a writer on tv series Sherlock, etc), Christopher is forced to forgo a family weekend getaway at their country cottage. The stressed-out Christopher needs something to remind him of what is really important in life. And that reminder comes from a most unexpected source.

Meanwhile, in Hundred Acre Wood, Pooh awakens but can’t find the rest of his gang. He sets out to find Christopher, believing that his friend can help him. Pooh emerges into London via a magic tunnel in a tree and he meets up with Christopher in a park. At first Christopher is not too pleased to see this reminder of his childhood and tries to make Pooh go away. Pooh causes a number of minor disasters and disruptions to Christopher’s life, leading him to feel more stressed. But Christopher eventually reconnects with the rest of the gang and rediscovers his sense of whimsy and childhood playfulness, that allows him also to reconnect with his estranged family.

The film’s premise also takes Pooh and his friends out of their comfort zone, but unfortunately it doesn’t milk the fish out of water scenario far enough and fails to find many laughs in the situation. The film has been shaped by no less than five writers, including actor and writer Alex Ross Perry (Queen Of Earth, etc), Tom McCarthy (the Oscar winning Spotlight, etc), Allison Schroeder (Hidden Figures, etc), Greg Brooker (Stuart Little) and Mark Steven Johnson (Grumpy Old Men, etc), which accounts for its uneven tone.

Christopher Robin is yet another hybrid of live action and CGI created characters. There are some great special effects and CGI that seamlessly incorporate the animated characters into the live action. The special effects here are every bit as good as those used in recent films like Paddington 2 and Peter Rabbit. McGregor interacts with the CGI characters and he does a good job of making it seem real.

He conveys his characters exasperation well here. The film has been beautifully shot by Matthias Koenigswieser (After The Fall, etc), whose use of grey colour captures the bleakness of post-war London and Robin’s sense of depression and unhappiness. It also gives the film a nostalgic touch. There is also some superb production design from Jennifer Williams that evokes the London of the era.

Christopher Robin has been directed by Marc Forster, who made the family friendly Finding Neverland (2004), which offered up a different take on how J M Barrie came to create his enduring character of Peter Pan. Forster is a journeyman filmmaker who has also made romantic comedies like (500) Days Of Summer, dramas like Monster’s Ball, as well as the Bond adventure Quantum Of Solace. Here he returns to the more family friendly tone of Finding Neverland. However, Forster gives the material something of a melancholy tone. Christopher Robin lacks the sense of fun, the playful tone, the slapstick humour and visual delights of both Paddington 2 (one of the best films for children in the past couple of years) and Peter Rabbit. There are a few slow patches here that will bore the younger members of the audience.

Forster has assembled a solid ensemble cast to voice the wonderful stuffed creatures who look a bit ragged around the edges and have clearly seen better days. Cummings, who has voiced Pooh for thirty odd years, brings a slightly jaded and bemused tone to his reading of Winnie the Pooh. He also provides the voice of Tigger. Brad Garrett, from Everybody Loves Raymond, etc, provides the voice of the hapless and depressed Eyeore, while Nick Mohammed voices the overly anxious Piglet, Sophie Okonedo voices Kanga, the ubiquitous Toby Jones provides the voice of the wise Owl, and former Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi voices Rabbit. Of the human cast, Atwell is wasted in a fairly thankless role, while Carmichael is excellent brings some emotional heft to her role.

★★☆

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