Since the release of Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland, a dull but bizarre film that inexplicably made a billion dollars at the box office, Disney has gone full-tilt on live-action remakes and reboots of their classic animated properties. While some of them show promise, with both Cinderella and Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book offering interesting takes on otherwise flat stories, others have not inspired hope for the future (here’s looking at you, Beauty and the Beast). All of that being said, I can confidently declare that Disney’s Christopher Robin is the most creative and best-executed reboot Disney has delivered yet.
While I enjoyed it very much, I have to admit that the film is quite strange. It follows an adult Christopher Robin who has become burdened by corporate life in a post-war London who requires the assistance of his old friends Winnie The Pooh and company in order to be reacquainted with his childhood. The obvious choice would have been to juxtapose the austerity of industrial London with the bliss of the Hundred Acre Wood, and yet, every frame of this film is treated with the same sort of melancholy tone whether Piglet is having a tea party or adults are discussing their marital strife. And yet, while eminently strange for a movie marketed to families with young kids, this is a choice that I rather appreciate. In this film, Christopher Robin has grown up. He is in his forties and after being beaten down his whole life, his world is no longer sunny or all that colorful. It’s only right that this movie be given such an adult look because it is decisively an adult film. I think this is where the greatest confusion lies. I don’t believe Christopher Robin is a movie for children. This is a movie for all of us who have forgotten what it means to be a child.
It’s possible that I may be inclined to appreciate the look of this film simply because every frame is stunning. The cinematography in this movie is positively beautiful, so much so that I might be persuaded to say that this may be the most visually interesting film Disney has ever produced. The credit has to go to the director of photography, Matthias Koenigswieser, a talent who, following a quick glance to his IMDb page, seemingly came out of nowhere. He frames every shot so well, and really, really nailed the lighting to reflect the mood of the picture. His hiring only gets better when paired with director Marc Forster. Forster uses the cinematic language to communicate ideas so well in this film it might as well be textbook. I knew I was in for a treat during the montage under the opening credits. He delivers a tale over multiple decades using very little words, thus proving himself to be a master of visual storytelling.
The story is where the movie weakens itself to me. By and large the morals and heart of the film are all excellent and are well-communicated through every scene, but the plotting can get a little shaky here and there. I was happy that the Pooh in London bits were brief, as that sort of “let’s take an innocent thing from your childhood and put it in the big city” motif has been done many, many times before. And honestly, the film gets a little too twee in the last act. But it’s quite alright, really, because the portrayal of Winnie The Pooh makes it all worth it. Honestly, if the film was just ninety minutes of Pooh Bear puttering around accidentally waxing philosophical about silly things like balloons and honey I would be fine with it. The dialogue written for the stuffed animals is pitch perfect and each of the voice actors deliver heart-breakingly sincere performances. As for Ewan MacGregor, he’s fine. He’s not really doing anything particularly exciting here and his “transformation” is every bit as quick as it is unconvincing. It’s not a bad performance, it just is the weakest part of the film for me. All in all though, I can’t help but be happy with Christopher Robin. It’s like crawling under a blanket after an exhausting day. It’s relieving and comforting and a little sad, all mixed into one.
All images are from Christopher Robin, a film by Walt Disney Entertainment