Christopher Robin is a nice film. In a way that is about all I need to say regarding it. Nice can be good, nice can be warming, but nice can also be just a tad forgettable. Whilst Christopher Robin is beautifully made, affectionately acted and like a gentle hug it also struggles to say anything unique or different to what other “heartwarming” films have done already. One thing it certainly does immensely right and is by far the biggest selling point is nail the characters of A.A Milne. Right from the off we get a delightfully charming prologue introducing the young Robin as he shares afternoon tea (so nice) with his anthropomorphic animal friends. Each of them just as you remember them, and I would hope most of you would’ve at least seen part of a Winnie-the-Pooh cartoon or book, but brought to life using some truly stunning and seamless CGI.
Oddly director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland-to which this film most resembles) constructs some of the denizens of Hundred Acre Wood as almost photorealistic such as Owl or Rabbit, yet Piglet, Tigger and Pooh himself feel more like living breathing stuffed toys blessed with sentience. It is not enough to hamper the truly masterful effects work but it does feel a touch off. Fortunately their lovable personalities are present and correct, the screenplay (with work by Spotlight’s Tom McCarthy amongst others) capturing exactly what makes each of them so endearing. Pooh in particular carries with him that delightful contradiction of seeming hopelessly silly yet remarkably philosophical. It more than helps that the voice performers are suitably energetic in their delivery, well save for Brad Garrett’s wonderfully droll patter as the depressive Eeyore. Jim Cummings returns as the original voice of Pooh with that uniquely wistful trembling voice, adding elements of melancholy to each of his lines.
Alas the same cannot be said for the human characters, who are a bit of a dull bunch. For Christopher Robin that is sort of the point. The film showcasing a now older Robin as he shuns his once flightful imagination for a life of stability and routine. A clever opening montage framed as if it were the chapters of one of Milne’s stories, captures his life. Marrying the loyal Evelyn (Hayley Atwell-underutilised), fathering a girl and settling down into a grey company role selling suitcases, by way of a surprisingly full on WW1 stint (well as full on as a PG film can get). A snivelling smarmy boss played by Mark Gatiss, who seems cursed to play these sorts of roles forever, urges on Robin to prize work over family, leading him to ditch his wife and daughter as they spend a weekend away in the country. Christopher needs to find himself again and learn to champion his loved ones over the drudgery of work, something which his old friends at 100 Acre Wood may be able to help with. In a slyly clever turn it is hinted that Pooh and co are merely lying dormant (or in their eyes just having a very long nap) awaiting the moment Robin may need them again.
Plot wise that is pretty much it, the rest of the film a series of skits centring on the animal crew trying to get him to loosen up and their clumsy attempts to help back out in the “real” world. If this all feels very slight and familiar, that’s because it is. Plot momentum is at the lower end of the spectrum here, Christopher Robin more focused on taking a nice leisurely stroll to its obvious destination. Its message of family over work, and trying to hold on to some sense of childlike wonderment is always welcome if very very trite. Marc Forster is no stranger to eliciting tears, Finding Neverland-another twist on a famous children’s character-is awash with them, but here things never rise above a simple “awww.” It is once again just all very nice.
Ewan McGregor is certainly no stranger to hamming things up for a younger audience, case in point- the Star Wars prequels, and sells the bond between him and his old friends. Yet too often you find yourself frustrated at him, after the 5th time of steering back to work issues rather than what really matters you’ll find yourself not really caring. Although more a writing issue than performance based, McGregor never fully warms himself to the audience. His final moment of realisation raises more of a pleasant smile than a punch the air emotional catharsis.
Christopher Robin does have plenty to recommend though. Its gentle charms and soft humour raising plenty of minor chuckles, with a couple of set-pieces raising PG-level thrills that would easily enrapture young minds. The film also looks absolutely beautiful too. Shots of Pooh floating his hand across lavish flowers more akin to a Terence Malick picture than a mainstream Disney film, coupled alongside the lavish production design that only a Disney-funded wallet could buy, and you have a solid feast for the eyes. There is a melancholia to Christopher Robin too, thoughts of a time when the chaos and pressures of adult life felt so far away, that is touching if never truly close to deeper ruminations. None of the PTSD and father-son issues that gave that other Christopher Robin film its powerful heft. Clearly this was never Forster’s intention, and in seeking out a gentle child friendly piece of Sunday entertainment he has easily succeeded. Christoper Robin is a bear hug of a film, albeit from a little bear covered in honey wandering the woods. Isn’t that nice?!
Verdict: A film full of low key charms and gentle humour, Christopher Robin has nothing new or original to say but has a generous spirit that warms the heart.