Directed by Marc Forster
I'm going to be honest up front here. Christopher Robin thawed my cynical heart. It made me smile and laugh and shed manly tears. Sure, the movie is manipulative. And, yeah, the AV Club's Ignatiy Vishnevetsky calls it "nostalgia-emotional pornography" and normally I might agree, and I can see what he's saying and it's probably true for him, but, damn, I love this movie. Christopher Robin didn't just melt my cynical heart, it made me see that maybe I had become a bit of heffalump myself, a bit of woozle, it made me see that maybe I had become a destroyer of fun. Maybe all I needed to cure my angst, even if for only a couple of hours, is a movie that features a talking stuffed bear.
Sure, the main plot is a bit of cliche. And it can be predictable. And we all saw Hook so why do we need to see another Disney child grow up to be a middle-aged, corporate workaholic who ignores his family? But the path from opening to closing credits takes twists and turns and occasionally goes off in unexpected directions. The movie has some surprises that are very surprising, it pulls off some magic that is very magical. Christopher Robin's greatest magic trick might be making it feel like a return to somewhere comfortable, somewhere familiar, when nothing like this particular Hundred Acre Wood has been attempted before. Christopher Robin is a slow-burn that takes its time to get to where it's going. Like Pooh would say, it always gets to where it's going by moving away from where it's been. It's a patient, deliberate film that might test the patience of some younger audience members, but the audience I saw it with seemed to be there for the entire movie so what do I know about kids?
Christopher Robin is also strikingly beautiful. Director Marc Forester and cinematographer Matthias Koenigswieser have made something that at times is singularly beautiful and sometimes feels almost like a Terrance Malick film for kids. Especially in the moments when Pooh runs his paw through wildflowers. Very Malick in those moments, indeed. And, like a Malick film, Christopher Robin is surprisingly melancholy for a Disney film. This is a Christopher Robin that is sent to boarding school, who suffers family tragedy, who meets the love of his life, who gets sent off to war. This is a Christopher Robin who has buried his childhood under the weight of difficult adult lessons. Ewan McGregor plays him with a bit of a thousand yard stare, with a bit of a slouch to the shoulders.
Not sounding like much of fun film right now is it? A deliberate, melancholic Terrance Malick homage with talking stuffed animals. Yeah. I took a wrong turn somewhere here. Let me try to correct this.
Yes, it is deliberate. It is a slow burn. And yes, there are some very Malick-like moments. And, yes, it does have a very melancholic tone. Oh, bother. I did it again.
But it is funny. Honestly. It is really and honesty funny. There are moments of laugh out loud while wiping tears. There are moments when Pooh's Tao like proclamations are so ridiculous that they cross from deep thought to bust a gut funny. Jim Cummings, the voice of Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger for almost thirty years, is amazing. His Tigger is like Bert Lahr with ADD and on about six red bulls. His bear of little brains is note perfect, with a tone all his own but still with that Sterling Holloway thing that Sterling Holloway brought to the table when he created the voice. But the MVP of the whole enterprise is Brad Garrett's Eeyore. Everyone does a great job, bringing voice to characters that audiences have been hearing in shorts and in films for over fifty years. But, yeah, the MVP of the voice cast is Brad Garrett. His Eeyore steals every scene he's in. The marriage between the animators and the voice actor is near perfection, everything about the character is, well, perfect. Look, this is a movie where Peter Capaldi voices Rabbit. And, still, Brad Garrett nearly steals the movie.
And so, somehow, I sat down to write a thing about a new Disney Winnie-the-Pooh movie and ended up going on about Terrance Malick and melancholy and angst and somehow played short with the fun and charm of Christopher Robin. It really is fun. And its charm is off the scale. This might be the single most charming and fun movie I've seen so far this year. The bar has been set high for the rest of the year, very high indeed.
I've been waiting a very long time for a proper Winnie-the-Pooh film, a very long time indeed. This could have all gone horribly wrong, the battle between anticipation and reality. But, in my oh, so humble opinion, everything went right. Very right indeed.