Christopher Robin review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
With Disney striving to rework all their animated properties into live-action, it was inevitable that Winnie the Pooh would receive the computer-generated slap of reality. My fears ran high of merging Pooh and his pals into the real world, made evident by the cringe-inducing hipness of The Smurfs and Alvin and the Chipmunks. Those concerns can be put to rest for the Hundred Acre Wood merely making a field trip to a post-war London. So while there’s no need to worry about Pooh dancing to dubstep and duplicating the latest in meme moronity, he must still plow through a story so familiar of the likes of Hook about growing up but never “growing up.”
Despite a CGI glaze, all the Hundred Acre Wood characters are faithful as they haven’t lost their step or bounce. Pooh still loves his honey when not making obliviously silly observations and Eeyore is still the loveable sad sack he’s always been. Christopher Robin, however, has changed. When off to boarding school, he leaves behind his talking stuffed friends of the fantastical woods. Boarding school leads to the war, war leads to family, family leads to a desk job. He’s all work and no play, now played by a worrying Ewan McGregor. The adult Christopher Robin could use a rousing adventure of imagination and play.
In comes Pooh to save the day, wandering to London to seek out his missing friends. Given how lost the animals can be without Christopher, I’m surprised they lasted this long without seeking him out. I can only imagine how darker the film could have been had they sought him during the war. The usual antics of entering Christopher’s adult world occur; Pooh will make a mess of the kitchen and freak out a businessman on the street with his presence as a talking teddy bear. That’s to be expected. In fact, most of the story arrives on schedule, hammering its message bluntly home that there’s more to life than working.
There’s thankfully a warm core to the story despite the heavy-handedness. Where the film finds its best groove is by the time Ewan McGregor rediscovers that more playful Christopher Robin, eager to venture around the Hundred Acre Wood and do battle with the imaginary Heffalump. Ultimately, it’s the stuffed CGI characters that endure the most as they never lose their edge. If anything, they grow fonder and empathic, reasoning that Christopher has done so much for them that they should do something nice in return. Even when required for slapstick antics of making messes, scaring the populous, and slamming into windshields, there’s something so loveable about their personalities that transcend whatever medium they’re presented within, given that Pooh has existed over the years in video games and puppetry.
But, wow, does the film tap dance that melodrama that feels more artificial than the sweetness. Needlessly dipping into the somberness of an aging Christopher Robin, the story cuts between scenes of war and depressingly pushing his family away. On the other end of the picture, Christopher’s eventual realization of where his priorities lie is presented in a strangely cartoonish manner of an after-school special reviewing what was learned today. If it weren’t for the oddest presence of all the Hundred Acre Wood creatures, the cliches run high and dry that the charm is under attack by the lesser staging of seeking simplicity in adulthood.
I love Winnie The Pooh and wanted to love this film more for its insightful and interesting characters that must run through a relatively safe story. Watching the film go down this route makes one merely shake their head, smile, and sigh as Christopher Robin had always done with Pooh when his head was caught in honey.