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Re-imagining a classic

Ewan McGregor in Christopher Robin.

Ewan McGregor in Christopher Robin.

Christopher Robin
3 stars
Director: Marc Forster
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael
Duration: 104 mins
Class: U
KRS Releasing Ltd

Created by author A.A. Milne in 1926, the anthropomorphic bear Winnie-the-Pooh which featured in a number of books and went on to become one of literature’s best-loved characters by readers of all ages has returned to screens.

The Pooh stories have been translated into many languages – including Latin. Today, 92 years later, Pooh, his menagerie of animal friends – Tigger the Tiger, Eeyore the Donkey, Owl and Rabbit the, erm, Owl and Rabbit; Kanga and Roo the Kangaroos, and Pig the Piglet, and of course his best human friend Christopher Robin, a character inspired by Milne’s son of the same name – are firmly embedded into literary history and lore.

As, over the decades, the books retained their popularity, while continuously drawing in generations of new readers, the adventures of Pooh and friends were adapted for stage, audio recordings, radio, TV and film.  Disney – after acquiring the rights to the character in the 1960s – created numerous animated productions.

Disney returns to Pooh’s world in Christopher Robin, focusing the story on the titular character in a hitherto unseen incarnation. Having spent a childhood in Sussex fuelled by a vibrant imagination that gave birth to his imaginary animal friends (illustrated in the film’s best sequences) Christopher (Ewan McGregor) is now grown-up, living in post-war London with his wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and their young daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael).

Somehow lacks the sense of magic that is expected from a movie of this ilk

Yet, the happy-go-lucky young lad is no longer. He struggles in a job as Efficiency Manager for Winslow Luggage, and finds it difficult to juggle the demands of his job and family – to the detriment of the latter.

When he is ordered by his obnoxious boss Giles Winslow (Mark Gatiss) to cancel a weekend getaway with Evelyn and Madeline in order to come up with a plan of budget cuts to save the ailing company, it is the last straw.

Yet, a sudden appearance by his childhood friend offers him a chance to make things better. 

And so continues Disney’s re-imagining of some of the greats of its back catalogue. Yet, Christopher Robin, for all its wonderful production values and a game cast, somehow lacks the sense of magic that is expected from a movie of this ilk.

The human characters do not put a foot wrong. McGregor’s frazzled Christopher offers us glimpses of the younger, more carefree person he once was. He successfully projects the angst of a man caught up with adult responsibilities while unable to connect with the daughter he clearly loves. Atwell’s Evelyn is a supportive and independent wife – yet, one whose patience is now quickly running out. Young Bronte Carmichael is effective as a bright young girl hurt by her father’s rebuffs, and Gatiss is suitably insufferable.

Yet, the story is not terribly original nor interesting, and it is odd that Pooh’s sudden reappearance in Christopher’s life is never really fully explained.

It is, surprisingly, the animals that are somewhat one-dimensional and not given any depth of character at all. Pooh is very naïve and kind and oftentimes wise despite his being a bear with very little brain.  But, dare I say it, some scenes with him wandering around the Hundred-Acre-Wood go on a tad too long.

Tigger bounces all over the screen, Owl, Rabbit, Kanga, Roo and Piglet are given very little to do. Of the animal cast, Brad Garrett’s lugubrious Eeyore gets the best and funniest lines.

Christopher Robin is going to invite an inevitable comparison to another well-loved bear from literature who has had a highly successful transition to the big screen – Paddington Bear. His two films were chockful of whimsy, magic, and adventure, but also a healthy dose of humour traits which Christopher Robin sadly lacks. The whole experience is enjoyable, if rather melancholic and a tad dull in places.

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