Battling Heffalumps And Woozles: A Review Of Disney’s "Christopher Robin"
The new Christopher Robin film from Disney, as directed by Marc Forster, is an earnest effort to update the ‘story’, by giving us a grown up Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor), a businessman in a post-war Britain, working as Efficiency Manager of the Winslow Baggage Division. He’s married now, with wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael). Preoccupied with the division’s flagging fortunes, it would seem that Christopher has lost the spark of imagination and wonderment that was such a part of his youth, when the Hundred Acre Wood was such a reality to him.
The ‘magic’ of this escape is wonderfully captured in the opening sequence, as all the characters we loved from the A. A. Milne books are there for a farewell tea party being held in honor of the boy Christopher before he heads to boarding school. What follows during the opening credits is basically a fast forward of some twenty years of Christopher’s life—the loss of his father, entering the war, falling in love and having a daughter. It’s as the story progresses beyond this point that we’re saddled with a rather sad situation—neglectful father, obsessed with work, and sending his daughter off to boarding school even if he had such a traumatic boarding school experience himself. It’s with the reappearance of Pooh to a grown up Christopher that the movie spurts to life.
Thankfully, this is no goodbye Christopher Robin, the 2017 biopic of Milne that was downright depressing as a film about PTSD before it was called PTSD, and child exploitation. This film averts that pitfall (no surprise there, as this is Disney); but do be forewarned that this is not some sunny, high adventure, storybook foray into the world of Pooh. It does have its moments of adventure, especially in the last quarter of the film; but there are more serious elements at play, and a profusion of sad, wistful moments.
Thematically, this film is really about parenting, about maintaining innocence and joy in life; and while there is a fairy tale ending, much of what transpires takes place within the bleak reality of everyday life—your grown up version of Heffalumps and Woozles. Even the world of the Hundred Acre Wood is at one point, affected by bleakness and the loss of innocence. What saves the day is the ease with which McGregor interacts with his animated confederates, and the utter charm of Pooh’s philosophy and attitude to life. The homespun wisdom behind his seeming nonchalance is always a delight to witness; and whenever Pooh takes Center stage, we are entertained.
As a Disney film, this one actually left me a little confused. I’m sure parents will be bringing their children in droves; but I’m wondering if the more mature and sobering storyline of the first half of the film, will keep the children entranced. The comic misadventures of the second half will take them home, but I think the very young will have lost touch with the film by that point. Hopefully not, as the film does carry an important message.
Photos from @disneystudios, @pooh, and @disney