What it’s about: Christopher Robin grew up near the magical Hundred Acre Wood where his menagerie of stuffed animals came alive. As Christopher grew older, life became bleaker with the death of his father, boarding school life, participation in a world war, and the hustle and bustle of London business. Now with a wife and daughter, Christopher works tirelessly to provide for his family, so much so that he has forgotten how to have any fun. A vacation back at his family’s cabin is ruined once again by work, so his family go without Christopher. But when a friend from the past, the honey-hungry bear Winnie the Pooh, makes an unexpected visit, Christopher is sucked back into his world of childhood imagination.
The extent of my Winnie the Pooh knowledge goes as far as the last two big screen adaptations: The incredibly underrated 2011 animated film and the depressingly bleak A.A. Milne biopic Goodbye Christopher Robin. The tone and execution of those two films couldn’t possibly be any different. Christopher Robin falls in between these tones and the ways the narratives are told.
While it might not be as completely unapproachable as Goodbye Christopher Robin, Disney’s newest adaptation is strangely not much of a kids’ movie. Like its main character, it feels more targeted toward adults who cherished Pooh growing up, nostalgic for the time when they could be more carefree.
Stylistically, the film’s melancholy is portrayed with a washed-out color palette. It is overall much more gray than you’d expect for a kids’ film. Visually, it is kind of a bummer.
That said, the effects work to bring the toys to life works really seamlessly. Pooh and friends have a really nice tactile look. They are slightly worn looking, exactly like your favorite stuffed animals from when you were a child.
The best argument for why Christopher Robin is actually a kids’ film is its fantasy logic, which is so strange that it has to be difficult for an adult to look past. Usually a movie like Christopher Robin supposes that the main character is imagining his toys come-to-life as part of a low-key psychotic breakdown on the journey for lessons learned. In Christopher Robin, however, Pooh, Tigger, Piglet and the whole gang are actual living and breathing toys that can be seen or heard by any poor soul in their way.
This leads to some of the funnier moments of the film [especially a scene with a cameo by British oddball Matt Barry] but the implications of this can only be devastating for any bystander in the film who glimpses what is going on here.
There are even more strange fantastical elements that aren’t at all explained. For example, Hundred Acre Wood seems to exist in some sort of parallel dimension or portal world. Pooh basically has the ability to jump between dimensions. It’s wild.
Unfortunately, Christopher Robin falls into the easy, lazy narrative trap of an extremely didactic character arc pitting work against family. Christopher is such a terrible husband and father, his relationship with his family is the coldest, most strident, movie version of a 1950s style businessman. Of course, Christopher Robin sets him so low as a way to build him back up through fantastical redemption, but it is such a cliche.
Worse yet, the film completely wastes Hayley Atwell as the doting wife only in the film to shame her husband into spending more time and having more fun with her. It is such a blase role that is somehow still a thing when we all can see how blatantly terrible a character it is.
Christopher Robin does have some charms. The voice-work by Jim Cummings is iconic, Brad Garrett as Eeyore is the perfect shade of downtrodden. There are some zen-like philosophies that work with these characters. It is just too bad that Christopher Robin is so weird without really embracing how weird it is — it tires to pass as a kids’ film while actually trying to appeal to adults, leading to a shoddy narrative and some confusing elements.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, Christopher Robin is no Paddington 2.