Review: Christopher Robin – Janneman Robinson & Pooh (2018)


Christopher Robin – Janneman Robinson & Pooh (2018)

Directed by: Marc Forster | 104 minutes | animation, adventure | Actors: Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael, Mark Gatiss, Oliver Ford Davies, Ronke Adekoluejo, Adrian Scarborough, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Ken Nwosu, John Dagleish, Amanda Lawrence, Orton O’Brien, Katy Carmichael, Tristan Sturrock, Paul Chahidi | Original voice cast: Jim Cummings, Nick Mohammed, Brad Garrett, Toby Jones, Peter Capaldi, Sophie Okonedo, Sara Sheen

AA (Alan) Milne already created it in 1926, but more than 90 years later, Winnie the Pooh is still loved and popular. In a short space of time, no fewer than two feature films were made about the gentle yellow teddy bear who is so fond of honey. In fact, it is not Pooh who has the lead role in these films, but Christopher Robin, Milne’s son for whom the British writer wrote the stories. With ‘Goodbye, Christopher Robin’ (2017), Simon Curtis focused on the troubled relationship between father Alan and son Christopher, who were tired of showing up for commercial activities to promote his father’s books. That film, with a story based on true events, was surprisingly not released in Dutch cinemas. ‘Christopher Robin’ (2018) by Marc Forster (known for ‘Monster’s Ball’ from 2001 and ‘Finding Neverland’ from 2004) did receive it. In two versions even (the original and the dubbed). In ‘Christopher Robin’, Milne’s now grown son has become so far removed from his carefree childhood that his old stuffed animals are forced to wake him up before he loses contact with his wife and daughter for good. It is an entirely fictional story, although the life of the film version of Christopher Robin does show parallels with that of the real son of AA Milne.

‘Christopher Robin’ mixes animation and puppetry with live action. The film opens with the closing of the book ‘The House at Pooh Corner’ (1928), in which Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings, who has played the bear for three decades) and his friends Tigger (also Cummings), Piglet (Nick Mohammed), Eeyore (Brad Garrett), Owl (Toby Jones), Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), Kanga (Sophie Okonedo), and Roo (Sara Sheen) have prepared a farewell dinner for nine-year-old Christopher Robin (Orton O’Brien), who will soon be goes to boarding school. The farewell also marks the phase in which maturing begins. In a romantic, wooded setting that is supposed to represent the Hundred Acre Woods, in moody colors, we see weathered cuddly toys having a tea party. The tone is set. The dolls are fantastic: they look exactly like in your imagination and although they are clearly stuffed animals, they still seem lifelike. Thanks to subtle computer animation and a great voice cast, Forster has brought these toy animals to life. These are animals that have been cuddled with, a bit worn out here and there. The message is clear; this is a film with a melancholic undertone. After the party, the viewer is taken in time with giant leaps through EH Shepard’s great original animations. We see how Christopher Robin meets his future wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and how he is sent out to fight during World War II. Being away from home for years, he misses the early years of the life of his daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael).

Shortly after the war we pick up the thread of the story. Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor on autopilot) is now working as an efficiency manager at a large suitcase manufacturer. But so soon after the war, most people have other things on their mind than going on holiday, so the department is losing money. Christopher’s insufferable employer insists that cuts must be made. Christopher’s job is to calculate how best to do this and whether people should be fired. Just on the weekend when he wanted to take Evelyn and Madeline for a trip to the countryside, he has to think about the numbers. And so his wife and child go with just the two of them. Moving the weekend for a few weeks is not an option, as Madeline faces the same fate as her father once; boarding school. And just on the day that Christopher is battling the numbers, Pooh loses his friends and decides to ask his old buddy Christopher Robin for help. He does this by crawling into a hole in a tree trunk that magically transports him to London. Pooh convinces Christopher to come with him. Back in his once beloved forest, he must do his best to convince the stuffed animals that he really is Christopher Robin. For they do not believe him at first; he couldn’t have changed that much, could he?

The sequel is easy to guess: Christopher discovers that his ‘grown-up problems’ are not the end of the world and rediscovers the child within himself. He does this especially in the funniest scene of the film, in which Christopher supposedly attacks the fictional Heffalumps to protect Pooh and his friends. Eeyore is his silent witness (the dejected donkey steals every scene he is in anyway). It’s in these scenes that we finally start to like Christopher a little, because even though Ewan McGregor is a nice actor to watch, he just can’t seem to make the boring Christopher look a bit interesting. Where the makers probably strive to play on the emotions of the viewer, this is hardly achieved because of the stiff main character. It’s only in his interaction with the puppets that some of the magic we’ve wanted to see throughout the film is released. A better approach might have been to let the dolls come to life only in Christopher’s imagination and not let other people see them move and hear them talk. That would certainly have enhanced the magic. Now we’re stuck with too many boring scenes of Christopher delving into “grown-up issues” that will put most kids to sleep.

‘Christopher Robin’ is full of good intentions and sometimes they turn out excellent, such as with the lived dolls that immediately grab our attention. The moody, melancholic atmosphere in The Hundred Acre Woods and the application of EH Shepard’s original drawings are also strongly affected. If only Marc Forster had let his film play in its entirety in the woods, it would have been fine. The trip to the hectic everyday life, the toil of adults, is sadly out of place here.

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