Early on in Disney’s live-action Pooh Bear movie, we’re introduced to a young Christopher Robin, who’ll soon be leaving to attend a posh and prestigious private school. Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger, Owl, Rabbit, Kanga and Roo bid farewell to their friend, fearing he’ll eventually forget all about them. He assures his “silly old bear” he’ll remember them always.
The moment is rather sad, however the film grows much darker. We get teases of other chapters in Christopher’s life; his being sent away, learning of his father’s passing, then we meet Ewan McGregor’s Christopher Robin.
When Christopher and Pooh reunite, it almost seems as though Pooh’s a figment of Christopher’s imagination; he’s precisely where Christopher needs him when he’s overwhelmed. The characters seemed like emotional manifestations of Christopher’s moods, be it depressed, worried, hyper and so on and so forth. Instead, Hundred Acre Woods is a real place in which, for 30 years, Christopher has left his pals wondering if he’ll ever return.
There’s some funny moments in Christopher Robin, of course. It nods to previous works by including Pooh’s morning exercise and Tigger’s song. The acting and voice acting are equally enjoyable. Not only can you believe these characters are who they’re telling us they are, but the performances have the ability to convince you you’re close or can relate. We’re all our own version of Christopher Robin, in a way.
The books and, more specifically, the Winnie the Pooh cartoons always featured a charming mixture of deep lessons and strangely dark moments (anyone else remember the Heffalumps and Woozles song?). Even still, Christopher Robin is an unusually dark film for its audience.
Marc Forster’s palette is as dreary as the Robins family. The characters wear outfits that are almost the same color as the dark London setting, almost if to subtly evoke some defeatist mentality in the working class, that stems far and beyond Christopher’s own vexation — and perhaps rightly so. After all, this is a film about the audience’s fading youth and how we focus so mechanically on making a living that we forget to live.
Jim Cummings has voiced Winnie the Pooh for 30 years, which adds to the familiarity of the story. Both Owl and Rabbit are the only animals who aren’t stuffed and threaded. It would have been interesting to see how the filmmakers would have tackled creating Gopher, had he been present. Brad Garrett does a wonderful job bringing the crestfallen Eeyore to life.
Christopher Robin is a good movie, but I’m not sure how much appeal it would have to its primary demographic. For those of us who’ve grown up with Jim Cummings as our Winnie the Pooh, it feels sort of like a personal invitation to our inner child to come out and play, though the gloominess may be too tedious and confusing to some children. Then again, it is Christopher Robin’s story and not Winnie the Pooh’s.