Unless you had an unfortunate upbringing, Disney movies are a part of every child’s life – with beautiful, lovable characters and stories that touch your heart. One of those many characters is the whimsical Winnie-the-Pooh — in the pantheon of childhood icons, there are few others who can make one smile as he can. Playing off of that notion, Disney and director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland) take us back to the Hundred-Acre Wood and, with it, our childhoods, in today’s new release, Christopher Robin.
Now fully-grown, Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor, American Pastoral) is working a thankless job in a luggage company in London — one that keeps his mind focused exclusively on work and away from his family, even when he’s at home. When ordered by his boss (Mark Gatiss, Sherlock) to stay at work over a weekend he promised to take his wife (Haley Atwell, Howard’s End) and daughter (Bronte Carmichael, On Chesil Beach) to the countryside, Christopher opts to keep to his job, but not without hesitation. While taking a quick break from work, his past finally catches up to him in the form of Winnie-the-Pooh (the inimitable Jim Cummings) – arriving when they need each other most…
Let’s not beat around the bush – this is a wondrous movie! If you haven’t been sold on Disney’s animated movies as of late, their live-action films have truly proven that the soul of Walt is alive and well! How, you may ask? I believe it’s in their knowledge of the meaning of nostalgia. Whereas so many movie remakes and TV revivals claim to be for the sake of “nostalgia,” they lack any feeling for the works that came beforehand and make little attempt to connect to the past. To better understand it, the etymology of the word “nostalgia” originates from the Greek words “Nostos” and “Algos” — translated, those words refer to “return home” and “pain,” both of which this film understands so very well. It further helps to have the accomplished Marc Forster directing — think what you will of his James Bond outing (Quantum of Solace), the man is experienced in pulling tears the same way dentists pull teeth — he brings all the wonder of childhood he did in Finding Neverland with the heartfelt feeling of time lost that he perfected in Stranger Than Fiction.
As for our cast, Mr. McGregor is in fine form as Robin, and it’s truly brilliant seeing him transform from stiff-upper-lip businessman to a grown child playacting with his old friends! Ms. Atwell plays his wife, Evelyn, wonderfully, initially a woman struggling to recognize the man she married as the man she loves, but still loving to both husband and daughter, and she has some great moments toward the end of the film! Young Ms. Carmichael, as daughter Madeline, is charming and lovable, even at her saddest, which she pulls off with aplomb. As for Mr. Gatiss… what a great sleaze he plays!
The voice cast is also terrific — Mr. Cummings plays both Pooh and Tigger as youthfully and joyfully as ever and with all the respect they deserve… there will never be another voice actor quite like him! Brad Garrett (Ratatouille) returns as Eeyore, the character he once played in Disney Interactive CD-ROM games in the 90’s, and he has some of the best deadpan comedy I’ve ever heard! Newcomers to the Hundred-Acre Wood include venerable English stars Sophie Okenodo (The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses) as Kanga, Toby Jones (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1) as Owl, Peter Capaldi (Doctor Who) as Rabbit (who has some great visual gags!) and Nick Mohammed (Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie) as Piglet, all of whom are wonderful additions to the cast and perfect heirs to the work of their previous actors.
I know I have been gushy in more than a few of my previous reviews, but the fact is, in this case, that Christopher Robin is a beautiful film that expands the stories we once knew so well and does it with the same loving care a parent would have for their child. Some would dismiss this movie as “depressing,” or the ungodly fusion of Ted and Hook — you’d be very wrong. Leave your prejudices at the door (where applicable) and enjoy wandering through your childhood memories that call you back once more.
(By the way, you’ll want to stick through the credits for a lovely nod to the past!)