Oh Bother, I’m a Sap – Christopher Robin

You all should know by now, that I am most decidedly NOT a fan of Disney’s recent slew of live-action remakes and updates of their animated classics. I didn’t watch Maleficent, because I am among the entire population of Earth who didn’t ask for and didn’t want to see Sleeping Beauty by way of Wicked. The remakes of Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast were crimes against cinema (and maybe even nature). The Jungle Book was alright, mostly because the plot was more coherent than the original, but the CGI basically made it a cartoon (and don’t even get me started on the upcoming Lion King remake that they brand as “live-action” despite having no human characters or live settings).

But I’ll admit, this time they got me. On pure nostalgia value alone, Christopher Robin is a success. Everyone’s got their soft spot, and for me it was always Pooh and Eeyore. And the film delivers them in spades. Yes, just like Maleficent was update via ripoff, so too is this basically just Winnie the Pooh meets Hook. But still, I was thoroughly entertained, and just a bit misty-eyed.

Ewan McGregor stars as a grown up Christopher Robin, who left his friends behind in the Hundred-Acre Wood when he was sent off to boarding school. Through montage, we see him be forced into assimilation in school (HOW CAN YOU HAVE ANY PUDDING IF YOU DON’T EAT YOUR MEAT!), grieving the loss of his father, and serving in World War II. We also get a brief meet-cute courtship with Evelyn (Hayley Atwell, still making Captain America regret every life decision), and the eventual birth of daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael, who I hope was named for the writers, because otherwise, WHY?!?!?!?!?)

Anyway, Christopher works as an efficiency manager for a luggage maker. Essentially he’s in charge of tightening the budget, as the company has fallen on hard times. As he’s planning a weekend away with the family at his childhood home, his joy is dashed by his boss (Mark Gatiss of Doctor Who and Sherlock), who insists he work through the weekend to cut more costs, or risk massive layoffs. Gatiss is the son of the owner, but he promises to be working as well, as he tries to pass off the idea that he’s on the side of the working class. As is necessary for dramatic tension, Evelyn and Madeline are resentful of how serious he is and how much he ignores his family for work. The poor man can’t even graduate to Bob Cratchit levels, because he has no time to devote to his family.

As Evelyn and Madeline prepare to leave, Christopher tries to comfort his daughter, who among other things, is set to go to boarding school herself, but she secretly doesn’t want to go. She has discovered a box that once belonged to Christopher as a child, one where he stored all his mementos of the Wood. She finds a drawing he did of himself and Pooh, which brings back memories for Christopher. As they leave, Pooh wakes up in his house, alive for the first time in years, because like Coco, this is the first time anyone has remembered him, which is something of an existential mind fuck, but it’s a kid’s movie, so best not to dwell on that.

Drawn by instinct and curiosity, Pooh (Jim Cummings, who also voices Tigger) crawls through the tree stump that was Christopher’s gateway between the real world and the Wood (because apparently the Wood is now a magical alternate dimension rather than just a normal wooded area where Christopher let his imagination run wild), and instead of emerging at Christopher’s childhood home (where Evelyn and Madeline are), he finds himself in a small park across the street from Christopher’s current home in London. When the two encounter one another on a bench, Pooh is overjoyed to see him in his uniquely subdued way, and Christopher is terrified.

Antics ensue, with Pooh’s curiosity and love of honey basically leading to him destroying the house and constantly interfering with Christopher’s ability to do his work. So he resolves to go down to Sussex and take Pooh home. Along the way he must keep Pooh quiet and avoid the curious stares of the public. Once back in the Wood, the rest of the gang is nowhere to be seen – again, because Christopher hasn’t thought about them in years. When he insults Pooh, the silly old bear vanishes. As Christopher searches the Wood to apologize, he eventually runs into Eeyore (voiced here by Brad Garrett, a perfect modern fit), who believes he is a Heffalump. When he finds the others holed up in a hollowed out log, they all feel the same way. Only by “playing” and rediscovering the fun of imagination (and in doing so defeating the “real” Heffalump) does he regain the others’ trust and find Pooh again.

The rest of the film is a race against time, filled with antics. Christopher heads back to London to make his presentation about the budget cuts, but unbeknownst to him, Tigger has replaced all his papers with more mementos from the Wood, and so they enlist Madeline’s help to catch up to him before it’s too late, leading to an ending that makes little sense and is a bit too neatly wrapped up, not to mention dripping with middle class wish fulfillment.

But really, all that matters is the relationship between Christopher Robin and his first family (because honestly the second, human one, is little more than passive-aggressive ball-busting). Pooh still delivers those childlike witticisms that have made him so endearing for over a century. Tigger’s energy still knows no bounds. Eeyore is everyone’s favorite sad sack (and the lead cause of my momentary choke ups throughout the film). Piglet (Nick Mohammed) is still timid beyond measure. Kanga (Sophie Okonedo) is still the doting yet disciplined parent of the group, not just to Roo (Sara Sheen), the ever-curious child. Owl (Toby Jones) still tries to display his intellect through anecdotes that go nowhere, all the while arguing with Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), who still tries to control everything despite having no idea what he’s doing.

No matter how hokey the actual plot of the film is, this is the part that the creative team really got right. What could have been dismissed as a cash grab ripoff of a Steven Spielberg movie (what if Peter Pan, er, I mean, Christopher Robin, grew up?) is saved by the careful attention to detail when it comes to the relationships and in reshaping the characters for a new audience while still maintaining what made them beloved in the first place. It also helps that the designs are amazing. Pooh really looks like an early 20th century stuffed bear. He’d give Ted a run for his money. Tigger’s fur is faded and his felt is patchy in places. Eeyore’s tail actually detaches. More importantly, Rabbit looks like a real rabbit. Like, you can tell that Rabbit and Owl are actual animals rather than plush toys, a distinction that previous animated films never really got quite right. That sort of effort lends the film a sense of reality, and by extension a greater degree of credibility.

The human performances aren’t bad, and McGregor in particular shines because he’s just so committed to all the bits. He even gets a few pithy one-liners that had me picturing his version of Obi-Wan Kenobi in a couple instances. He’s the perfect straight man to Pooh’s shenanigans.

So yeah, this isn’t a perfect film, not by a long shot. And thanks to MoviePass’ continued bullshit it took three weeks for me to see it (I’ve now signed up for AMC A-List as a companion program, and it may become the primary), so I know there’s nothing truly missed if you wait for it to come out on Blu-Ray, probably just in time for Christmas. That said, I really enjoyed the movie. The humor was right at the level it needed to be, and seeing the characters in an updated light triggered a lot of happy memories on my own. So it’s definitely worth seeing. Also, I want to cuddle Eeyore forever.

Grade: B

Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? Who’s your favorite Hundred-Acre Wood character? Should the adult Christopher Robin finally teach Pooh how to fucking spell the word, “honey” already? Let me know!

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