I grew up on A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh books. Long before Walt Disney’s The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh movie, there was Winnie-the-Pooh (1926) and The House at Pooh Corner (1928). Pooh and Christopher Robin, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger, Owl, Rabbit, and Kanga and Roo have been a part of our family for three generations now. My grandmother used to read their stories to my father when he was a little boy growing up in England, my father read them to me when I was a little girl, and now I do the same for my own daughters.
I was beyond excited to hear that Disney was making a new live action Winnie the Pooh movie, this time featuring all our beloved characters reimagined in the style of Christopher Robin’s original stuffed animals. But would it live up to the hype?
Disney’s new Christopher Robin is a sequel to those classic stories. The film embraces this nostalgia from the beginning with its familiar animation of flipping through book pages and its pen illustrations in the style of E.H. Shepard’s original drawings.
Christopher Robin starts with Pooh, Piglet, and all the rest of our favourite anthropomorphic animals at a farewell party for Christopher as he prepares to leave for boarding school. Christopher comforts a disconsolate Pooh and reassures him that he will never forget him.
In a series of brief scenes, we watch Christopher leave his childhood behind. He struggles to fit in at boarding school and is faced with the grief of losing his father in his early teenage years. He heads off to war and upon his return to London, he marries Evelyn and they have a precocious little girl named Madeline. (To be clear, this is a fictionalized version of Christopher Robin. The real Christopher Robin Milne married Lesley de Sélincourt and became a bookseller in Dartmouth. Christopher’s real daughter, Clare, was born with cerebral palsy.)
Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) is now all grown up and a very busy man, working as an “efficiency expert” at the Winslow Luggage Company. He works hard to provide for his family and knows that nothing comes from nothing, a lesson he tries to teach his daughter when she begs him to spend more time with her. He is forced to back out of a weekend away with his family because he must stay in the city to work, so his wife and daughter go without him.
Throughout this time, we see brief glimpses of Pooh waiting for Christopher Robin to come back. One morning Pooh wakes up, does his stoutness exercises, and goes looking for his friends who have mysteriously disappeared. Pooh finds a door where there wasn’t one before, and he walks through it looking for Christopher Robin. When the pair meet again after decades apart, they recognize one another right away.
Christopher takes Pooh home, and the silly old bear immediately introduces chaos and messiness into Christopher’s formerly regimented life. The pair return through the door to the Hundred Acre Wood which is unsettlingly dark and dreary. The muted colours convey a vintage, historical feel, but seems to miss some of the magic. Christopher defeats a Heffalump, thus proving to the other animals that he really is Christopher Robin returned.
The next morning, he rushes back to London for a VERY IMPORTANT work meeting. After he leaves, Pooh discovers that Tigger has removed Christopher’s VERY IMPORTANT papers from his briefcase, so Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, and Eeyore decide to return them to Christopher in London. Along the way they run into Madeline who agrees to help them find her father.
When Evelyn finds Madeline’s note, she drives to London in pursuit, and Christopher abandons his work meeting to help look for Madeline. They find her with Pooh, but Madeline is heartbroken that she’s lost her father’s papers. Christopher assures he that he doesn’t care – she is the most important priority in his life.
The vintage visual design of the characters is inspired by Christopher Robin’s original stuffed animals, and the mix of live action and computer animation is fantastically well done. I really believed that Pooh and Eeyore were real, live, stuffed toys walking around in London. Who knew a toy could show so much emotion with just a subtle shift in stuffing?
Christopher Robin is sprinkled with delightful nods to the source material. When Christopher Robin gets stuck coming through the tree door, he remarks, “So this is how it feels.” When Pooh and Eeyore speak, it feels like their lines would fit right into the books, and Tigger introduces himself to Madeline with his trademark song:
There are some questions though. It turns out Pooh and the rest of the animals aren’t merely the product of Christopher’s childhood imagination (as they were in the original stories). Other people can see them move and talk. And while this makes for some amusing scenes with bewildered Londoners, everything feels a little darker when we realize that this means Christopher really did abandon his actual friends. The plan Christopher comes up with to save his company and spend more time with his family seems a bit shaky, but it wouldn’t be a Pooh movie if things didn’t wrap up with a happy ending.
My daughters loved seeing all their favourite characters come to life on the big screen. Jim Cummings’ voice work shines as he reprises his roles as Pooh and Tigger, and Brad Garrett’s Eeyore is spot on. But for the grown-ups in the theatre, this serves as a gentle invitation to remember the simplicity and joy of childhood, the power of friendship, and most of all, the importance of family. At its heart, this movie is about Christopher Robin’s relationships. His relationship with Pooh, and his relationship with his daughter most of all. Fittingly, Christopher Robin feels like running into an old friend after many years apart – curiously strange yet familiar at the same time.
Christopher Robin opens in theatres everywhere today.