By Jason Wiese
Remember Hook? The 1991 fantasy film was Steven Spielberg’s answer to a question that seemed impossible to visualize: what if Peter Pan grew up? It is certainly a thought that may cross one’s mind, given how disgusted the young character created by J.M. Barrie was by the idea of being an adult. But a character in popular children’s fiction whom I at least never would have imagined as an adult is a boy who spent his time playing with talking stuffed animals in a place called the Hundred Acre Wood. Such an idea, to imagine what Winnie the Pooh’s human friend, Christopher Robin, would be like as an adult, sounds like a delightful idea with great potential tell a story that would subvert the expectations of any fan of A.A. Milne’s stories.
So, why does it remind me so much of Hook then?
Ewan McGregor plays Christopher Robin, who has grown up to be a business man in 1950s London with a wife named Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and daughter named Madeline (Bronte Carmichael). However, he is so committed to his career that he never has time to spend with them or his friends, not that he is willing to entertain the idea of having any real “friends.” Perhaps it was his service in World War II, his somber late childhood, or his extensive absence from the Hundred Acre Wood, but Christopher Robin is far from the boy he was and has grown to be a cold, emotionally distant man. But his past catches up with him after a chance reunion with a silly old bear named Pooh (voiced once again by Jim Cummings) leads to an “expetition” to a place he had long forgotten.
There are many moments in which the film is a real pleasure, especially visually. Any doubts one may have had over the idea of bringing Pooh, Piglet (Nick Mohammad), Tigger (also Cummings), Eeyore (Brad Garrett), Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), Owl (Toby Jones), Kanga (Sophie Okonedo) and little Roo (Sara Sheen) into a live action landscape will not be disappointed by how carefully they are handled. In fact, some of the film’s most endearing moments involve Christopher reconnecting with Pooh, catching him up on his adult life, which leads to some amusing conflicts between the nature of reality and fantasy. Not only does the script and talented voice cast stay true to the characters, but their vibrant CGI design is so beautifully realized, you might swear they were using puppets.
I wish that I could say that my amusement extended further than that.
I mentioned Hook at the beginning of my review because I could not help but feel that Disney took the liberty of taking the beats of that script (workaholic family man wrapped up in the responsibilities of adulthood who has lost his inner child and reconnects with his inner child with the help of fantasy characters), amended the names and setting and called it Christopher Robin. Despite how well its sets itself up to tell what could have been a heartwarming, original story about rediscovering the joys in life, its by-the-numbers execution results in a payoff as emotionally empty as its titular character.
Until the film gives up on its potential and settled with an all-too-convenient and weightless conclusion, I was willing to forgive Christopher Robin for its already shaky script, mainly because of the kids. The children at my screening were visibly and audibly (very audibly) enjoying every moment, laughing and crying at the film’s best moments, convincing me that if it is good enough for the kids, then it has done its job. That was until it hit me that Disney mistook its target audience.
This is a film about an adult rediscovering his childhood. The children in the audience are already currently living that life, unable to genuinely feel the weight of the themes the film touches on to the fullest degree. Therefore, I believe that the grown-ups in the audience should have been the ones the screenwriters thought of when they wrote it. Instead, I would recommend that parents take their children to see Christopher Robin purely for the chance to watch their children be charmed by their latest, or even first, visit to the Hundred Acre Wood. But I believe that will be the extent of the parents’ satisfaction.