There’s a moment in Christopher Robin in which the older-but-definitely-not-wiser titular character and his best furry friend, Winnie the Pooh step into a dreary, muted, and unfamiliar version of the Hundred Acre Wood in search of their lost friends. Seeing Christopher Robin revisit a space he once inhabited, with his pure innocence and imagination- in a forgotten, disheveled state, was emotionally resonant. The once playful child, now cynical businessman, Robin suggests to Pooh to begin searching for his friends in the most efficient way possible by walking straight forward.
If you know Pooh, you’ll know this silly old bear is the opposite of efficient. While Robin’s approach takes him to point A and point B with little adventure, Pooh prefers to improvise, detour, and see where it takes him. Often, he finds success in unusual places. Marc Foster’s direction has great intentions, but its overall execution is sadly comparable to Robin’s method of exploration. This is where the film falls short. Christopher Robin is a sweet and sometimes interesting journey, but it squanders its ideas and chooses to be passable.
For the record, I am behind a lot of the creative conceptual choices here. I loved the idea of an older Robin having to go on a metaphorical reclamation of his own youth, the muted color palette, the stuffed animal translations of these characters, and for the first two-thirds of the film, I was invested in where it was going. The overall high points of the film begin (and end) with the Hundred Acre Wood, as adult Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) trudges down the foggy forest, getting lost in his own innocence to find Pooh’s friends. The more in touch Robin becomes with his younger self, the more awake the Wood becomes, it’s vibrant and resonant visual storytelling.
The nostalgia-based factor of the live action Disney films have never been more thematically fitting to the story. We all knew this land, so there’s a lot of emotional weight seeing it in disrepair. I like this path, it’s often criticized for being too sad or too dull but I see the direction it was taking and thought it was bold in the beginning – a whimsical medium ground between an adult and children’s story.
It’s such a shame that once the film makes a departure away from the woods again, it also makes a departure from its premise and turns into something more conventional and unimaginative. Sadly, the remainder is concerned with Pooh and his friends going back to London to return important business papers to Christopher Robin, with the help of Robin’s sadly underdeveloped daughter (Bronte Carmichael) and Robin’s equally underwritten wife (Hayley Atwell). This is where the film becomes simply too busy and misunderstands its strengths. Christopher Robin is too worried that in its quiet, aimless moments of Robin rediscovering the Wood with Pooh that it isn’t entertaining or Hollywood enough for its audience, so it decides to do the typical adaptation trope of the cartoons entering the real world, and in turn, makes some questionable choices in its writing that devalues its own ideas.
I found myself wishing the film was structured differently. I wouldn’t have minded if the whole film took place in the Hundred Acre Wood, a hangout film where Christopher Robin encounters Pooh and his friends yet again as they aimlessly explore the Wood. A film where these characters chat, we gain more insight into their personal relationships, what growing up has meant for Robin, where they have been and where they will be – that’s what makes Winnie the Pooh as a franchise special in the first place! Where there is adventure, there are also low-stakes, introspection and philosophy. The emotional power for me was certainly within the Wood, and I felt sad the writing was charting me and the animals away from it. Maybe that’s a bit too adult, but this film already established itself within this adult/child limbo, so it might as well keep going.
There’s a lot to love about the way this film is presented though. I noted the beautiful visual storytelling in the Wood and anyone who loves these animals as much as I do will be pleased to know they are all beautifully represented in writing and there is impeccable CGI work done with bringing them to life. The felt under their fur, the marble eyes, and textured noses – while some may find them creepy, I find these designs absolutely adorable and fitting for what the film is. Jim Cummings’s Pooh is still the incredibly sweet bear he always was, but the scene-stealer for me was definitely Eeyore, wonderfully portrayed by Brad Garrett. Ewan McGregor gives a charming and relatable performance as Christopher Robin, and in the moments where he is allowed to really be the Robin we all know and love, he delivers with so much glee.
The screenplay was written by three people, and I can definitely tell because the film has trouble picking exactly what it’s trying to say. There’s this beautiful sentiment with all Winnie the Pooh stories that Christopher Robin at some point must say goodbye, a statement showing that while the time spent being a child is precious and valuable, it’s also fleeting. Christopher Robin definitely explores this, but muddles that with how it chooses to end the story – implying contradictory ideas. While the film is still a pleasant watch and is generally unoffensive, you’ll find yourself wishing that it did a lot more nothing – and maybe that would lead to a lot more something.