Despite its moments of magic and a show-stopping performance from Pooh, Christopher Robin lacks much needed focus which leaves it just short of enchantment.
Down in the Hundred Acre Wood (where Christopher Robin is now head of efficiency at a struggling luggage company) you’ll find the enchanted neighbourhood of Christopher’s childhood days – but may be slightly disappointed that some of the magic is missing.
Not to be confused with Goodbye Christopher Robin, last year’s biographical true story of A.A Milne’s writing of the Winnie the Pooh stories (though you would be forgiven), Christopher Robin is the far more fictional tale of a now adult Christopher forced to confront his childhood self and the much-loved characters that come with it. Ewan McGregor is well cast as a barely recognisable Christopher Robin, a now stubbornly mature working man, much to the neglect of his frustrated family. He offers a complete binary to the fun-loving young boy of our memory, and as a result, his arc is drawn out for us long before any appearance of a red-shirted bear – to rediscover his imagination and embrace his family.
Once Pooh does appear however, the film really hits its gleeful stride. Waking to a foggy day, unable to find Tigger, Eeyore and co., he stumbles across a Christopher Robin in turmoil. “I’ve cracked” he says, upon witnessing the talking teddy sat beside him, “Oh, I don’t see any cracks. A few wrinkles maybe.” It’s an introduction which lives up to the anticipated nostalgia and brings all of the magic and heart of the stories and animation with it. It must be said that Pooh boasts a few wrinkles of his own. Taking a tactile approach to the character design, the animation beautifully renders an uncompromising realism which makes the whole CG cast appear well-loved and tangible. This accompanied with the musical deadpan performance of Winnie’s original voice, Jim Cummings, brings the silly old bear to visceral life.
One particular moment, which channels Malick and could have easily been placed into The Tree of Life without alarm, sees Pooh’s detailed fur paw reach for a passing reed; a shot which highlights the ambition of the film’s animation as well as Matthias Koenigswieser’s cinematography. Together, these elements provide the film’s biggest successes as they combine to forge a magical realism oozing with a sense of memory and life.
It is in these moments where the film is at its best. Often dragged to an unfortunate halt, Christopher Robin’s problem is with the unrelenting focus on its titular character and his work, forgetting too often the smaller instances which are far stronger. Christopher’s daughter, Madeline, performed with plenty of charm by relative newcomer Bronte Carmichael, may have provided a more effective focus and given the film the much-needed emotional investment which its office scenes lack. The irony is that director Marc Forster and screenwriters Alex Ross Perry, Tom McCarthy and Alisson Schroeder tread the familiar moral tale of a father learning to value his family more than his work whilst valuing Christopher Robin’s work over the tender moments with his family. The result is frustratingly lacking in catharsis. Take it from somebody who welled up at the trailer alone, you can leave your tissues in the box for this one. Christopher Robin offers more of a warm blanket than a tear-soaked handkerchief.
Within its frantic desperation to tell an interesting story, Christopher Robin often attempts to do too much and as a result its emotional impact is too little. While we focus on car chases, office meetings, lost documents and wars, we miss the intimacy and heart, which often peeps out in some genuinely brilliant moments from behind the action like a frightened Piglet and reminds us what the film could have been. As Pooh aptly puts it, ‘doing nothing often leads to the very best kind of something,’ a mantra which Christopher Robin would do better not to forget. Not even when he is a hundred.
Christopher Robin (2018), directed by Marc Forster, is distributed in the UK by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, certificate PG.