In any other year, “Christopher Robin” might’ve swooped into theaters and stolen our hearts with its whimsy and all around pleasant spirit. After all, who doesn’t love Winnie the Pooh? No one, that’s who.
In increasingly divided times, the enduring awesomeness of the silly old bear might be the one thing we can still agree on. Unfortunately, in 2018, Pooh has to contend with the feature film vehicles of another eminently likeable bear, Paddington, whose latest release stands as one of the best of the year.
Clearly, Pooh Bear was going to have to up his game for “Christopher Robin,” his first foray into live-action. He’d have to be more wholesome, more aloof and more dangerously addicted to honey. He’d have to practice his adorable pratfalls into the long hours of the night. Even Heffalumps and Woozles would find themselves captivated by his endless good nature.
It was either that, or coast on doing what the character had always done without adding anything new in the way of story or style, completely banking on the public’s love of the inhabitants of Hundred Acre Woods.
You can take your guess which option the creative team chose.
“Christopher Robin” is a perfectly fine movie. It’s funny and cute in all the ways you’d expect: Pooh remains an absolute delight of a character and, if you grew up on Disney’s “Winnie the Pooh” movies, seeing characters like Piglet, Rabbit and Eeyore again feels like reuniting with old friends (for the short time they’re on screen, at least).
Unfortunately, the story all too often leaves those old friends behind to focus on scenes of the title character’s generic family drama and work struggles. Like last year’s “Goodbye Christopher Robin,” it settles for being just likeable when it could and should have been so much more.
Robin (Ewan McGregor, “Beauty and the Beast”) leaves behind the Hundred Acre Woods and decades later spends so much time working that he doesn’t have any leftover time for his wife, Evelyn (Hayley Atwell, “Marvel’s Agent Carter”), and young daughter. It’s only after his family leaves for a vacation in the countryside without him that he is reunited with Pooh Bear, who needs his help to find his missing friends and maybe, just maybe, teach Robin a lesson about what’s really important in life.
Given the title of the movie, the increased focus on Christopher Robin was unavoidable, but was Christopher Robin ever anyone’s favorite part of the Winnie-the-Pooh movies? Is Christopher Robin the reason anyone will be seeing this movie?
In the animated Disney films, he was usually the audience proxy, the character put in the story so the kids watching at home could pretend that they were playing and learning lessons in the Hundred Acre Woods.
The script banks on childhood nostalgia in the same way as “Toy Story 3,” presuming many of those who grew up with Winnie-the-Pooh have gone on to have lives and children of their own, so when they see Robin’s struggle in the trailers, they’ll relate and take their kids to see it.
“Toy Story 3” didn’t focus on Andy, though. The story wasn’t as much about him moving on from his old toys as it was his old toys moving on from him. The same lesson was imparted and we all still cried, but the focus remained on the parts we’d always loved.
“Christopher Robin” is like if “Toy Story 3” just followed Andy around as he prepared for college.
Having director Marc Forster (“World War Z”)behind the camera doesn’t help. The director’s resume speaks for itself, but he all too often trends toward muted colors and shallow focus close-ups that don’t mesh well visually with Pooh’s bright world, rendering it downright dull at times. Even childhood scenes meant to be happy dampen the charm of the film. The Hundred Acre Woods have never looked so bland.