REVIEW: Christopher Robin, where Disney goes back to the hundred acre wood

An honest review of Disney’s Christopher Robin. Did Winnie and his friends win your heart?

I think its safe to say Winnie-The-Pooh is an infamous character on the big screen, first appearing in short theatricals in the 1960’s, along with his stuffed animal friends he brings nostalgia to most of us. Pooh’s latest cinematic adventure is in the form of Disney’s Christopher Robin.

Disney’s latest CGI’d movie, featuring Ewan McGregor as the eponymous Mr Robin (It should be Milne but who’s interested?) became a sort of hybrid. The whole look is a muted 1940s grey with upper lips starched as notably as the tweeds and pin-stripes worn below. The animal characters are washed out but retain their Americanised twang.

Despite a promising start where Pooh and friends first appear the plot races through young Milne’s youth and war service to his all consuming and pointless office job which takes him away from his devoted wife (Hayley Atwell) and daughter (Bronte Carmicheal).  About an hour is spent mulling this thorny problem over with Pooh breaking the space time continuum (It doesn’t make sense to me either) to bring him around. 

Having failed in his efforts Pooh, ‘a bear of little brain’ (as we are reminded three times during the film – our power to retain this must be in question) enlists all his furry friends and the remainder of the film becomes a road movie to put everything right. The father must be saved from himself and returned to his family.

I’ve heard this before somewhere.  Didn’t George Banks go through the same turmoil with Mary Poppins (Disney)?  In Hook, (Spielberg) wasn’t Peter Banning (another name change) forced out of retirement to return as Pan, the boy who never grew up?

Christopher Robin for all its period charm and skilful design fails to reach any great heights in plotting or emotion.  Mary Poppins is much more fun, packed with incident and playfulness and grounded with pathos. In Hook there is genuine peril for Peter Pan’s children kidnapped by the evil pirate.

None of this surfaces in Christopher Robin.  Daughter Madeline runs away from home to find Dad but there’s no tangible sense of danger. The stuffed toys are less super-heroes and more Last of the Summer Wine re-treads. The gentleness of the Pooh tales and the demands of the modern adventure story do not sit well together. It all adds up to nothing more than an unsatisfying wallow in nostalgia and a reminder that the rehabilitation saga has been done so much better before.

So why has Disney rehashed this old idea?  The appearance of Simon Farnaby as a crazy cabbie late on gives a clue. Farnaby also appears in another bear movie, a movie he co-wrote.  Perhaps they hoped the magic would rub off.

So often the big screen recreates beloved characters taken from books or television and makes a complete mess of it. The Flintstones, Yogi Bear, The Cat in the Hat, all fondly remembered from childhood were given this treatment. Each one captured the look perfectly. Each one fell short in execution. How did everyone feel when it was announced that the same fate was going to befall Michael Bond’s Paddington?

Not only was big screen Paddington outstanding, its sequel was probably better. Christopher Robin is merely an attempt to cash in on the market. Sadly, it has fallen short. No doubt Disney will interpret the financial bottom line as reason to come up with Pooh 2. It’s a case of ‘My bear’s bigger than your bear’.  I’m sorry Disney, it’s not.

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