Christopher Robin

 

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Walt Disney weighs in with the latest attempt at re-inventing our childhood with decidedly mixed results.

 

Christopher Robin

Innocence regained: Ewan McGregor with Winnie-the-Pooh

  

If you thought last year’s Goodbye Christopher Robin was the final chapter in the legacy of Winnie-the-Pooh, think again. In fact, say hello to Christopher Robin, Walt Disney’s bizarre attempt to resurrect its Pooh franchise. After all, A.A. Milne’s bear from Sussex is the company’s second best-selling character – and merchandise spinner – after Mickey Mouse. Obviously, the enormous commercial success of Paddington was another factor, although the five writers credited with the screenplay and story have also tapped into the theme of Steven Spielberg’s Hook (1991). That is, what if Peter Pan – or in this case, Christopher Robin – grew up and mislaid his ‘inner child’? The difference with the new film, as opposed to last year’s deeply moving Goodbye Christopher Robin, is that it’s aimed squarely at a family audience. And therein lies the dilemma. Children, on the whole, should be in full possession of their inner child and will be somewhat baffled by Christopher Robin’s problems in the boardroom.

 

The grown-up Christopher is played by Ewan McGregor, who is now a work-plagued ‘efficiency expert’ at a luggage company suffering a downturn in business. Therefore, his life is a welter of spreadsheets and pie charts as his accident-prone boss (Mark Gatiss, laying on the physical comedy) looms over him. Thus, like Domhnall Gleeson as A.A. Milne in the ‘other film,’ Ewan McGregor’s Christopher Robin has become a stuffed shirt who spends all his time in London. And, when he does have time for his daughter, Madeline (the pitch-perfect Bronte Carmichael), he reads to her about the Industrial Revolution in lieu of a bedtime story. He thinks he is preparing for a better life, but as his wife, Evelyn (Hayley Atwell), tells him, “your life is happening. Right now.” Likewise, Winnie-the-Pooh observes, “my favourite day is today.” And so, borrowing from the magic wardrobe in another children’s classic, Pooh climbs through a portal in Ashdown Forest and out into a London park to rescue his old friend from himself.

 

Here, the director is Marc Forster, who steered a similar path with his 2004 Finding Neverland, in which an unfulfilled J.M. Barrie (Johnny Depp) found his mojo – and the inspiration for Peter Pan – through his friendship with four young boys. However, the overarching problem with the new film is its confusion of tone. It is at once a sombre, grey-coated portrait of post-war deprivation as well as a fantasy featuring an over-excited stuffed tiger and a terminally morose donkey and teddy bear. For much of the action, it is as depressing as Michael Haneke’s Amour (2012), until it bounces into high gear in the final act.

 

The opening features the line drawings of E.H. Shepard and reminds us of the charm of the original books, a magic that is largely missing in this live-action-cum-CGI edition. Employing the original voice artists of Disney’s Winnie-the-Pooh cartoons and video games – the Ohio-born Jim Cummings as Pooh and Tigger, the LA-born Brad Garrett as Eeyore – creates a jarring note with the otherwise Anglophilic mood. While Beatrix Potter is still giddy from spinning in her grave after the release of Peter Rabbit (2018), A.A. Milne must now be clinging to the sides of his coffin. Sadly, Disney’s Christopher Robin has neither the anarchic exuberance of Peter Rabbit – that so thrilled the young and infuriated the Potter platoon – nor the profound analysis of innocence lost as displayed in the former Christopher Robin film. It is neither one thing nor the other and is perhaps, then, a film of very little brain.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael, Mark Gatiss, Oliver Ford Davies, Ronke Adekoluejo, Adrian Scarborough, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Simon Farnaby, Mackenzie Crook, Amanda Lawrence, Katy Carmichael, Tristan Sturrock, Richard M. Sherman (on the piano), with the voices of Jim Cummings, Brad Garrett, Toby Jones, Nick Mohammed, Peter Capaldi, Sophie Okonedo, Sara Sheen.

 

Dir Marc Forster, Pro Brigham Taylor and Kristin Burr, Screenplay Alex Ross Perry, Tom McCarthy and Allison Schroeder, from a story by Greg Brooker and Mark Steven Johnson, Ph Matthias Koenigswieser, Pro Des Jennifer Williams, Ed Matt Chessé, Music Geoff Zanelli and Jon Brion, Costumes Jenny Beavan.

 

Walt Disney Pictures/2DUX²-Walt Disney.

103 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 16 August 2018. Cert. PG.