Christopher Robin review: now we are middle-aged

Ewan McGregor plays Winnie the Pooh’s best friend as a grumpy grownup who gets a boost from the return of his Hundred Acre Wood chums in this amiable, poignant adventure.

Nick Pinkerton

from our forthcoming October 2018 issue

Ewan McGregor as the titular Christopher Robin

Ewan McGregor as the titular Christopher Robin

A reunion with A.A. Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood menagerie that introduces the whole bunch into early-1950s Britain, Christopher Robin begins at the ending of 1928’s House at Pooh Corner, Milne’s last Winnie the Pooh book, with Pooh Bear and company bidding adieu to their playmate as he sets off for boarding school. This goodbye is one of the more bittersweet passages in children’s literature, and the going only gets rougher from there, as the film’s bandy-legged Christopher Robin grows into adulthood, shown to be a rather unpleasant business to do with scurrying around in muddy European war zones and scraping for the favour of workplace superiors.

Grown-up Christopher is fast heading for breakdown, divorce or worse when he re-encounters Pooh and, through the silly old bear, the rest of his childhood playmates. Thanks to them, Christopher will shake off the Man in the Grey Flannel Suit and rediscover something of the boy he once was. The premise is one familiar from Ate de Jong’s Drop Dead Fred and Steven Spielberg’s Hook (both 1991), films in which adult protagonists are rescued from the doldrums through reconnecting with the fancies of their youth and their inner child, though Christopher Robin is less brazenly grating than the fantastic former film, and less awful – and occasionally compelling in its awfulness – than the latter.

You could feel Spielberg trying to flog his moribund movie to life, whereas Christopher Robin is made with soft-edged impersonality by Marc Forster, whose pick-and-mix career (Monster’s Ball, World War Z, the superficially related Finding Neverland) does not a study in auteur consistency make. Nevertheless, his Christopher Robin, from a screenplay whose contributors include Alex Ross Perry, a writer-director of notably acerbic American independent films, bobs along agreeably, a mellow, often melancholy and entirely diverting job of work that keeps the spirit of the characters intact.

Christopher Robin (2018)

The film is a mixture of live-action and computer animated elements – a description that fits just about every multiplex movie, but you know what I mean – the latter most obviously at work setting Milne and E.H. Shepard’s characters in motion. (No explanation is offered as to why or how these critters should exist in the ‘real world’, which is probably for the best.)

As always, the translation of a single man’s drawn line by an army of punctilious pixel-pushers risks the erasure or diminishment of the charm of the original illustrations, charm being of course one of the most essential items in any cartoonist’s arsenal. The trick is done here with considerable panache, and there are a few fine sight gags – I am partial to one involving an oblivious Pooh tracking honey through the Robin household – though the comedy is based more in malapropisms and other wordplay. Pooh Bear and Eeyore, voiced respectively by Jim Cummings and Brad Garrett, hoard most of the best lines, and together define the spirit of the movie, both amiably shuffling and endearingly glum.

 

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