In a year dominated by Disney (Hi Thanos), the industry titan continues to churn out films as if it were butter and now we get a live screen adaptation with Disney’s Christopher Robin. Continuing their run of  live-action family movies with remakes of some of their richest intellectual property (culminating with 2016’s Jungle Book), Christopher Robin gives us a taste of what viewers can expect with December’s Mary Poppins Returns. This year, Disney has debuted two films that fit into one off re-imaginations: Ava DuVernay’s  A Wrinkle in Time (which is a contender for worst film of the year) and Marc Forster’s Christopher Robin, which opened this past weekend. Both films are inspired by infamous literary series (DuVernay’s feature is based on the first book in Madeleine L’Engle’s children’s series, while Forster’s feature pulls from a wealth of material and characters created by A.A. Milne, including a television series).

Director Marc Forster has one of the more eye popping catalog when it comes to a Disney adaptation, including a Bond movie and World War Z,  but the most encouraging film for why he may have been hired is with Finding Neverland, taking a look into Peter Pan more than a decade ago.

The film follows the life of Christopher Robin beginning moments before getting shipped off to boarding school, growing up into Ewan McGregor and getting married to his wife (Hayley Atwell). Through a montage of scenes that acts like a highlight reel, we see the defining moments of Christopher’s life and how he becomes a no nonsense adult, virtually abandoning the child he once was. Having survived the events of World War II, he’s working(whilst being very unhappy) for a large luggage company in London.

Christopher seems to have lost his way, struggling to find balance between family and work. His life is at a crossroad when Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings), rolls back into his life to put it back into perspective. The endearing bear brings out the imagination of Christopher, and Christopher Robin is also reintroduced to the rest of the gang, including Eeyore (Brad Garrett), Tigger (also voiced by Cummings), Piglet (Nick Mohammed) and Rabbit (Peter Capaldi).

Pooh, Eeyore, Piglet and Tigger do majority of the heavy lifting in regards to the childhood imagination, and some voice actors returned from the cartoons, returns here to make every line of his dialogue hold emotional weight.

Rediscovering your childhood is as universal as a plot could possibly be, and regardless of how viewers felt about the film, you find yourself reminiscing about the naive and imaginative mind you had as a kid. There was no such thing as paying bills, getting a degree, but it’s about letting your mind go to places so surreal and insane that it might be real.

As a film, Christopher Robin gets off to a somewhat slow start before the plot really hits it’s stride (aka meeting Pooh). As a result, the film starts off rocky as the story(which is written by multiple writers)  starts off on the wrong foot. Gradually, Christopher Robin finds its footing, mainly due to Ewan McGregor and the almost instantaneous connection and chemistry in playing alongside and off of his childhood fur friends.

What surprised me more than anything, is that Christopher Robin uses the Pooh material as a vehicle for dealing with real life, adult issues. Rather than focusing on the bond created with Christopher and his friends in early childhood, the film focuses on a dreary London post World War 2. Rather than focusing on a boy who lived in awe and imagination as a child, the film follows a disconnected soldier returning from war. From depression, to anxiety, to PTSD (hinted at in what seems to be a throwaway line in the film), the film turns out to be more of a time piece drama rather than a childhood adventure film. This does blur the lines somewhat of the exact target market of the film(in comparison to a Wrinkle In Time which was blatantly geared for children), I could see many young children being bored to tears with the first two thirds of the film. The fascination of “Look it’s Pooh!”, will eventually run thin with the children.

As a film, Christopher Robin provided a mixed bag.  Depending on the perspective in which you watch the film, you’ll either be surprised or extremely dissapointed. Watching as an adult that was very lightly influenced by Winnie The Pooh, I found that a lot of enjoyment can be found within the context of the film. If you watch the movie in order to find a reenactment of the Winnie The Pooh cartoons, you may find yourself dissapointed as the film takes a more realistic approach. Disney seems to have taken a risk with their renditions of intellectual property, and if this is a hint for what’s to come with December’s Mary Poppins Returns, with a few changes and attention to detail, they might have something special.

Grade:B-

 

 

Ananth Para
paramana@mcmaster.ca

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