Well, Pooh: Disney’s cross to bear
By: Matt Brunson
A.A. Milne may have been the one who invented Winnie the Pooh, but it’s actually the spirit of Peter Pan creator J.M. Barrie that hovers around the margins of the new Disney yarn Christopher Robin (two out of four stars).
Like Steven Spielberg’s 1991 Hook, a look at how the adult Peter Pan (Robin Williams) managed to reclaim his childhood innocence and exuberance, this picture posits that the adult Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor), formerly Winnie the Pooh’s human companion, has become so busy with grown-up responsibilities that he has forgotten how to stop and smell the honey. Yet the Barrie connection doesn’t end there. Christopher Robin is directed by Marc Forster, whose 2004 Finding Neverland centered on Barrie (Johnny Depp) and the family that inspired him to create Peter and the Lost Boys. This new picture falls in between those earlier efforts: It isn’t as artificial and lead-footed as Hook, but it also isn’t as probing or moving as Finding Neverland.
Ever the perpetual money machine, Disney is stumbling over itself in its attempts to make new versions of seemingly every property it has ever owned. While that pillaging may or may not eventually extend to offering live-action takes on the animated likes of The Three Caballeros or DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp, its run thus far has been largely expected and mostly successful, with such gems as Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella and even Pete’s Dragon (the latter actually improving on the original). Christopher Robin, unfortunately, falls short of hitting a similar mark.
Last year’s Goodbye Christopher Robin, which looked at the relationship between A.A. Milne and the son (Christopher Robin Milne) who inspired a literary namesake, was — despite a PG rating — largely made for adults, what with its dark themes of post-traumatic stress disorder and family dysfunction. Now here comes Christopher Robin sporting that same PG designation, yet this one is clearly made for family audiences. Certainly, the wee ones will thrill at the sight of Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings, who’s been essaying the role for approximately 30 years), Tigger (also Cummings), Eeyore (Brad Garrett) and the rest of the Hundred Acre Wood gang being brought to life as talking, walking plush toys. Yet will they care to watch McGregor’s Christopher fret over having to fire his fellow employees, or seeing his wife (Hayley Atwell) frowning over the fact that her workaholic husband is never home? Forget the kids: Even adults in the audience might balk at these uninspired interludes, dutifully set up so the movie’s overworked theme of reclaiming childhood innocence can knock them over like a bowling ball slamming into carefully arranged pins. In fact, much of Christopher Robin feels rote and routine, with the antics of the animals only providing brief respites from the overall drudgery on display. Just because Pooh and Eeyore are often sleepy doesn’t mean the movie itself has to follow suit.
It would be unfair not to acknowledge that those who reserve a special place in their heart for Pooh Bear will in all likelihood absolutely adore this movie. Others, however, might not quite understand all the fuss. Like honey, Christopher Robin is very sweet. Unlike honey, it doesn’t really stick.