“If anyone wants to clap, now is the time to do it.”
If he were alive today, A.A. Milne would likely find a reason to smile these days. Perhaps he is. Winnie The Pooh has made quite a bit of a comeback in recent years. Last year we saw the impact the creation had on his son, the real Christopher Robin, in the sentimental Goodbye, Christopher Robin. This year Disney continues its recent trend of bringing many of its classical animated features back for live-action remakes using the wonderful world of computer-generated f/x and motion capture performances. The recent Jungle Book release was a wonder to behold and one of the best films of that year. This year it’s the world of Winnie The Pooh, and to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of Winnie The Pooh And The Blustery Day, Disney releases Christopher Robin, and you’re not going to want to miss it. All of your favorite characters from both the classic books and the Disney cartoons is back, and it couldn’t have been a moment too soon.
“It’s always a sunny day when Christopher Robin comes to play.”
The film begins with young Christopher Robin having one last celebration with his friends of the 100 Acre Wood. The boy is going off to boarding school, and he will no longer get to visit his friends. It’s a sad day. This bittersweet gathering is followed by a montage of the milestone moments in the boy’s life as he grows older. We witness his action in WWI and meeting his wife for the first time. We jump ahead several years, and now he has a daughter who is about the age he was when the Winnie The Pooh craze began. He’s working as an efficiency expert for a luggage company and rarely has time for his wife and daughter. Now he must renege on a promised weekend holiday on the grounds where he played as a kid because his boss needs him to cut costs or the company will fire staff. Of course, it’s obvious that this is not the first time he’s broken such promises. His wife didn’t even bother to pack his suitcase. It appears that adult Christopher Robin is in crisis, but he’s not alone.
In the 100 Acre Wood, Pooh has awakened to a very dreary day. He can’t find his friends, and he’s worried about what might have become of them all. He does the only thing a simple bear could think up. He goes through the door in the old oak tree where he used to see Christopher Robin enter many times. Surely, Christopher Robin will know what to do. No one is more surprised to see the silly old bear than Christopher Robin. From here the two characters find that they can rescue each other, but it won’t be easy.
Disney does a very clever thing with this live-action film. Instead of bringing the cartoon characters to life, the CG characters are a bit of a hybrid between the Disney versions and the rough stuffed animals that once actually belonged to Christopher Robin and inspired the books. It’s a way to honor both rich histories, and it’s absolutely perfect. Some of the animals actually look more like realistic creatures, particularly Owl. Disney was also fortunate enough to get Jim Cummings to voice Pooh one last time. Cummings replaced Sterling Holloway after the first feature film and has been the voice of Pooh for 40 years. Cummings also voices Tigger, whom he has also voiced for years after Paul Winchell’s original efforts. So those two characters ring particularly true. All of the other original voices are gone now, but the voice cast comes pretty close on most of the characters. Everybody Loves Raymond’s Brad Garrett does a wonderful job of bringing out Eeyore’s mournful voice. Doctor Who’s Peter Capaldi supplies the voice of Rabbit. Nick Mohammed is fair as Piglet. Sara Sheen becomes the first girl to voice Roo, and Sophie Okonedo is Kanga. Finally, Toby Jones has pretty limited time as Owl. All in all I’d say that the spirit of most of these characters remains true.
The music from the animated feature is teased, mostly as piano interludes. That music was, of course, originally written by the iconic Sherman Brothers, who contributed most of the timeless Disney songs of the era. Surviving brother Richard Sherman created a few more pieces specifically for this film and appears in a silly stinker at the beginning of the credits. I’m a huge fan of those guys, and it was fitting that he have a place in this film as much as Jim Cummings. The 90-year old songwriter deserves a bow.
The actors appearing in the film as humans aren’t so bad themselves. Ewan McGregor does a wonderful job of playing the adult Christopher Robin, who is forced to look at his life and priorities. There’s a decided change that comes over the character from the serious worker to an embarrassed man when confronted with Pooh for the first time. Finally he gets to reignite the spirit of the young boy before the film ends. Agent Carter’s Hayley Atwell is somewhat underused as Christopher Robin’s wife Evelyn. Young Bronte Carmichael plays their daughter Madeline, who appears to be having a marvelous time in her father’s childhood.
Certainly, there are aspects of the film that are just silly highjinks. There’s a rather madcap journey through London where Madeline and the gang have slipped inside a trunk in the back of a truck to get her father’s papers to him before he’s eaten by Woozles for breakfast. There are the obligatory sentimental family scenes, but the real magic is found in these computer creations that somehow convey the kind of emotion that really gets to you. If you have any fond memories for these characters at all, you are going to be captivated.
Goodbye Christopher Robin and Christopher Robin are pretty neat little bookends, and I will find a place for them both on my own film shelves. “It appears I have reached the end of my thoughts.”