Though there are no actual Heffalumps and Woozles to torment Winnie the Pooh and friends in their newest adventure, there are the pangs of aging, the distressing balance of career and family and the melancholia of parting with the joys of yesteryear and rekindling it whenever necessary.
Yes, this all happened in a Winnie the Pooh movie. Did someone let Eyeore write the script?
Disney has decided to make the beloved A.A. Milne property the next in its line of auteur-y reimaginings, following in the footsteps of David Lowery’s folky Pete’s Dragon remake. The Mouse House and dark, gritty revamps don’t really mix, and it’d be disingenuous to call Christopher Robin a dark, gritty revamp (though that’s not to say we don’t not want to see that with the fluffy, cuddly citizens of the Hundred Acre Wood).
Rather, Mark Forster’s tale of how adult Christopher Robin finds Pooh and friends again is decidedly bittersweet, in one part a celebration of how we can always go home, and a rumination on just how hard that can be when life does what it’s best at: changing.
At the end of the storybook comes the ending, and of course, Christopher Robin can’t stay young forever. To kick things off, Pooh, Tigger and friends bid him adieu to boarding school, which is eerily reminiscent of the story of the real-life Christopher, who suffered through a boyhood of mockery and aloofness as the globe’s human signifier for the character of Robin, when Pooh was a worldwide phenomenon for pre-World War II youths.
If you think this is dark, check out 2017’s dramatized bummer Goodbye, Christopher Robin, and good luck flipping on the Disney cartoons after that.
Movie Robin (a game Ewan McGregor) has the same track (boarding school, war, employment), though movie Robin also falls in love in cinema-fashion and has a child. But, to set up the themes, movie Robin also becomes engrossed in his time-consuming job at a luggage company and begins to let his childhood whimsy ferment into professional dour. His wife and kid take notice, as does the audience. This isn’t the happiest Winnie the Pooh story. Again, did someone let Eyeore oversee the story department?
Once the gap between the Wood and post-war London begin to blend, Pooh pops up out of random (voiced once more by the indelible Jim Cummings), and sets Robin straight in the only way a silly ole bear could. If your kid gets a bit restless during this stretch, don’t be alarmed. This part of the movie is for mom and dad.
It’s a bit of a bold step for Disney to straddle the line between parents and kids here, particularly since the marketing campaign was squarely aimed at the 12-under crowd. But, the film has higher aspirations than to just take you on a trip down memory lane. It’s a lament to the innocence of childhood, and how growing up in every aspect might not be the end-all-be-all it’s cracked up to be.
Workaholic Robin really isn’t that bad a guy; he’s just consumed with work and has an amicable separation from fun. It might make all the older folks in the room a bit less eager to get in that overtime at the office once Monday rolls around, and a bit more eager to get out in the backyard with the family for a lazy Sunday afternoon.
While this movie can be dreary (one conversation between Pooh and Robin goes so far down the throat-lump lane that it’s borderline cruel for keeping the allergies out of your eyes), it’s still got the buoyancy of the source material. While Pooh can go for your feels, a bouncing orange plush tiger with a theme song’s a bit harder to really dampen. The back half eases up on the tension and bulks up the whimsy, which is to be expected once the film kicks into high gear and the animals enter the real world.
For all the wisdom Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and Eyeore imparted in your childhood, Christopher Robin shows these characters still have more insight up their sleeves, even if this time, it’s going to come franker, and might hit a little harder. The quiet moments here sink in like Pooh’s paw into a jar of honey, all at once warm and a little uncomfortable. You’re going to feel like a kid again, and you’re going to leave a wiser adult.
That seems to be a running theme of childhood films this year. Paddington 2 and Won’t You Be My Neighbor were noted for their quality, and ability to run the hankie box dry. Christopher Robin is as good as those films, and probably has the same rep at Kleenex as Paddington and Mr. Rogers. These films deal with the feelings we had when we were younger, and how churlish it might have been to leave those feelings behind as we got older.
I guess it is true. Your childhood nostalgia really is back, and in 2018, it’s coming to wreck you and make you feel whole again.