Movie Review: “Christopher Robin” – Blah

Written by Matt Butler August 16, 2018

christopher robin

Just to warn you, I’m going to sound like the biggest stick in the mud in this review.

Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) has grown up. He’s left the Hundred Acre Wood to go to boarding school, join the army and raise a family. With each new chapter of his adulthood, he drifts further and further away from who he was as a child, until he finds himself a father too overworked to read his daughter (Bronte Carmichael) a bedtime story; she even prefers to read to herself. It’s only with the serendipitous arrival of an old friend, Winnie the Pooh (Jim Cummings) and friends, that Christopher can learn to embrace his inner child.

The moral of the story is spelled out pretty clear from the beginning: “do less”. That’s all well and good for your average Winnie the Pooh story, but I feel like there’s something untapped here, something much more mature.

“Silly ol’ bear.”

This movie should have taken a page out of Pixar, specifically Toy Story 3. We all know Pixar markets their movies to children, but that’s just a sliver of its fan base. For Toy Story 3 (one of the few Pixar films to join the billion-dollar club at the box office), the audience is 20-30 somethings who know the 1995 film the way Andy knows Woody. Many of those fans, including myself, would be around Andy’s age by the third instalment (17). Toy Story 3’s success comes from reflecting its own maturity as a series in its themes and tone. It’s a movie about loss, and moreover the acceptance of change. It takes the tough-love assertion from the previous film that “Andy’s growing up and there’s nothing you can do about it” and actually explores the consequences.

christopher robin

My point here is that the audience for Christopher Robin isn’t the same as say, Piglet’s Big Movie or The Tigger Movie. If it is in truth a drama, then it needs weightier themes at play than just “do less”. That’s a theme that works better in something like Mary Poppins. It has a consistently silly and whimsical tone, so you know the overall theme will be something relatively simple. It also allows for some over-the-top characters like Mr. Dawes Sr., the old money-grabbing boss stereotype. We’ve seen it a million times, but in a story as silly as Mary Poppins, it’s forgivable.

“I always get to where I’m going by walking away from where I’ve been.”

The problem is Christopher Robin has a much more grounded and realistic look and feel, but its themes are just as simplistic. It even has the same stingy, money-grabbing boss. It keeps tottering back and forth between silliness and dreariness. And it’s never really funny or depressing, it’s just…blah.

christopher robin

At the very least, there are hints of something more adult at play. As we see a montage of Christopher Robin’s growth from schoolboy to workaholic father, there’s a brief sequence of Christopher fighting in the barracks in World War II. Never thought I’d see explosions in a Winnie the Pooh movie, but here we are! It’s this sequence that convinced me this movie was willing to tackle some pretty heavy stuff. What if Christopher was suffering from PTSD? Could this be the mental block that buries his inner child so impossibly deep inside himself? What if Winnie the Pooh is the one to bring him the reconciliation he needs to opens himself up as husband and father?

“Perhaps it’s our turn to save Christopher.”

Really though, Christopher’s fall from grace follows the same trends as most family films with workaholic dads do. This war sequence has so little impact on Christopher’s character that it’s pretty much useless. It’s the same ‘When You Coming Home, Dad?” we’ve seen in Beethoven, Mary Poppins, Liar Liar, Click, Evan Almighty, Hook, etc. I also don’t think we see enough of Christopher as a child to understand what he lost as an adult. We see him on the cusp of leaving for boarding school, having a party and waxing philosophical with Pooh Bear, but it just feels so joyless. I never felt what our lead character supposedly lost, which kept me from feeling anything for his character altogether.

christopher robin

Maybe I’m looking at this all the wrong way. This is, after all, a Winnie the Pooh movie. Maybe I’m the stick in the mud. But if it is just a silly Winnie the Pooh movie, why is it labelled a drama? Why are there clear references to World War II? What’s with the muted colours and realistic setting? Why is it rated PG? If this really is just another Winnie the Pooh story, then there’s a lot of elements way out of left field.

“I don’t remember being cheery.”

If you ask me, this movie should have played like this: We’d follow the same plot up until Christopher wanders into the Hundred Acre Wood. Rather than jump back and forth between the real and imaginary, keep Christopher Robin in the woods. At first, he’s lost and confused, worried about all the work he’s falling behind on, but then Pooh reminds him of the simple joys of just doing nothing. The plot would slow to an easy, breezy meditative pace. The nostalgic atmosphere would thicken, Pooh and company would reveal some philosophical truths, and Christopher would take a look deep inside himself to see what he’s been missing all this time. In the end, he would walk into the real world ready to embrace his family and be embedded with a new sense of purpose. Basically the same movie, minus the pointless car chase in the third act climax.

christopher robin

I’m beginning to worry I’m too stuck in my own head about this movie. The gist of it is I’m disappointed, but Christopher Robin is still a far cry from terrible. It’s just a very mixed bag. It has some cute moments, like Pooh getting into shenanigans at a London train station. However, Christopher and Pooh are the only characters with anything meaningful to do in the story. Everyone else is pretty much dead weight. Still, I commend the animators at Framestore and Method Studios for their impressive work on Pooh and friends. They walk that thin line between photo-realism and plushy cuteness with considerable grace. It’s also a delight to hear Jim Cummings in his quintessential role, and the rest of the cast fits into their roles like gloves (though Peter Capaldi as Rabbit seems to be stretching himself thin vocally).

“People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.”

If none of the stuff I’m rambling about bothers you, you’ll enjoy Christopher Robin fine enough. If not, might I suggest Paddington? It’s funny, sweet, and has an equally adorable bear as its lead character. Its sequel is arguably even better!

My Rating: 5/10christopher robin

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About Matt Butler

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is a strapping young English Major with a fiery passion for the art of cinematic storytelling. He likes long walks on the beach and knows the proper use of 'your' and 'you're'. (Example: I hope YOU'RE having a wonderful time browsing our site, and I hope you enjoy YOUR time reading my film reviews. I wrote them just for you.)

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