Review: “Christopher Robin”: Perfect for the Child in All of Us

   I couldn’t resist seeing this movie for two reasons: First, my husband absolutely loves Winnie the Pooh and the gang at Pooh Corner and I knew I’d be able to take him along. Second, I love Ewan McGregor who in the right film can be ingenious, sweet and charming. The trailer looked darling, the live action characters realistic and the humor looked infectious. I was concerned that it might be too saccharin or cloying. But the movie is the beautifully balanced between captivating, warm and loving with beautiful acting and everything I’d hoped it would be, appealing to children of all ages.

“Christopher Robin” stars Ewan McGregor as the title character, now grown up. He’s said goodbye to all his friends in the 100 Acre Woods, went to boarding school, got married, went to war, returning to a child and job. He has responsibilities and has lost his ability to have fun, working constantly and failing to find time for his wife, Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and his daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael)

At work, he learns that he must make cuts to the budget or his boss, Giles Winslow (Mark Gatiss) will cut employees instead. His plans to go away for the weekend with his family are disrupted by his need to figure out a solution. So Evelyn and Madeline go without him, Evelyn wanting her daughter to have an opportunity to play before she is sent off to boarding school like her father before her even though neither Evelyn or Madeline want her to go. Christopher begins his work but is soon surprised by a visitor from his past, Winnie the Pooh (Jim Cummings) who needs his help to find his missing friends. Will Christopher make time for his old friends or stick to his plans to work the entire weekend? Will he return to his old ways of laughter and love or lose all he cares about, including himself?

Let’s begin with the truth. I’m not the kid that watched any Winnie the Pooh cartoons. I read the books but while I liked them, I wasn’t into the characters in the same way most of my generation or the next couple were but I really loved this movie and I want to talk about why. The story is well balanced. It is authentic, not leaving out some darker aspects of becoming an adult but not dwelling on them either. What it does delve into is how easy it is to lose yourself in responsibility as you grow up and lose your ability to enjoy the moment, to enjoy fun and take time out for family and friends. The film does a fantastic job of getting right to the heart of Pooh, developing the theme of love and family, joy and laughter all without being forced or artificial in any way.

The humor in the clumsy, good hearted actions of Pooh enhance the story. Pooh instantly remembers his friend and Ewan McGregor does such a brilliant job with lines, like “Silly Old Bear” or “Doing nothing sometimes leads to the very best somethings.” When Christopher encounters the others, the variety of actions each takes leads to all kinds of laughter on the part of the audience. The joyfulness is an important aspect as it grows throughout the film, infecting Christopher as well as his daughter Madeline as they lose their sadness and redevelop happiness with each other and their lives.

Even though the story follows a predictable pattern, one that I expected, it is one that it must follow in order to be true to the heart of Winnie the Pooh and the love that every child touched by the character has for the world of the 100 Acre Wood. Despite that predictability, there are even surprises along the way, including Christopher’s solution to the problem at work. I loved what the writers came up with and it very much keeps to the theme of spending time with family.

The filming is also really well balanced. One of the elements that beautifully touched upon the book was the use of line illustrations from the books to illustrate the beginning of the movie. Those simpler drawings also bring to mind the earlier animations of the character. When the characters are brought to life, the stuffed creatures look true to the style from which the original writer A.A. Milne and his artist E. H. Shepard used as inspiration and it creates such realism in the acting and animation of the animals. Along with the characters, the styles chosen for the characters matched the time period, the scenery including cars and trains matched the post World War II era and the woods chosen for the 100 acre wood were inviting and gorgeous. Even the music matched the mood, several songs written by Disney legend Richard Sherman, one song sung and played by the man himself.

While I’ve mentioned the human actors, let me tell you each of them does an excellent job with their performance. Ewan McGregor flashes his grin at the appropriate scenes and is the perfect choice to give us a charming Christopher Robin. Hayley Atwell as Evelyn is gentle and kind, loving as Christopher’s wife and understanding while still tough in standing up for Madeline. Bronte Carmichael was smart and delightful as Madeline but the characters that steal the show are the gang from Pooh corner.

First, the best pick was getting Jim (what animated character hasn’t he played!) Cummings who has been the voice of Winnie the Pooh from 1988 on. He was the absolute only choice to the play the character and I’m grateful for whatever person selected him for the role. He also is the voice of Tigger and what a wonderful Tigger he was! The next perfect casting choice was Brad Garrett as Eeyore. His tone of voice and deep timbre made me love the ever depressed character. Peter Capaldi was Rabbit and Toby Jones was Owl, solid voices for the iconic pair. Nick Mohammed played the nervous Piglet who is completely integral on any adventure while Sophie Okonedo and Sara Sheen played Kanga and Roo respectively, each doing justice to their character. Every character was important to the film and without the right voice, this movie could have ended up so wrong.

There are small bits that detracted. Some of the smaller children will find that much of the story does go over their head. While nine year olds and up will follow along, the smallest might get a little lost but I think the warm characters with the cuddly Winnie the Pooh will still keep them entertained while the adults revel in the joy of the film. The story is predictable but it is so lovely and entertained that I hardly noticed.

This is going to be a new favorite for families and the young at heart. Disney fans and fans of the books will fall in love with the characters. Even new fans will enjoy the story for the heartwarming tale of family and love. The perfectly balanced homage to the books and the older cartoons will please those who pay attention and the writing has enough laughs and surprises to beguile even the most jaded. I adored it, completely!

Rating: 4.5 honey jars out of 5.

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