There’s something quite scary about nostalgia. When you revisit something that you loved as a child there is always the danger it won’t be the same. Which is why I’ve tended to avoid most of the reboots of my most loved childhood TV and films. It’s the reason I only got round to watching the two new Paddington films recently instead of when the first one came out. I just didn’t think it would the same. I didn’t think there was any chance that the CGI bear would give me the same feelings as the cartoon one did in my youth. As we now know, I loved both of the films and feel like an idiot for not believing that I would. So, when Christopher Robin was announced I treated it with less suspicion. I knew that it was possible to make a really good live action version of one of my childhood favourite animated classics. Plus, you know, Ewan McGregor’s face is always a reason to get excited.
Christopher Robin isn’t exactly treading new ground when it comes to the narrative. Years after leaving Winnie the Pooh and friends in the Hundred Acre Wood for the final time, Christopher Robin has grown up to be a man with great responsibilities. After meeting a a young woman, settling down, and starting a family, Christopher found himself in the middle of a war. A war he survived but that changed him. Now back in post-war Britain he finds himself struggling to combine his responsibilities as a boss and a father. With so many people relying on him to keep their jobs, Christopher has been forced to put his family aside in favour of his job. Thankfully an old friend is about to turn up and remind him that, sometimes, a little childlike fun can be a good thing.
It’s a Hollywood tale as old as time: middle-aged man neglecting his family is taught a lesson in what really matters in life. The thing that makes this time stand out? The wonderful performance of Jim Cummings as the beloved silly old bear himself, Winnie the Pooh. Cummings has been voicing the character for a whopping 30 years and there is something so delightful yet heartbreaking in his performance. He may be voicing a CGI teddy bear but, I’m not ashamed to admit, Cummings brought tears to my eyes on countless occasions during this film.
The rest of the Hundred Acre crew aren’t quite as successful as they are being voiced by a variety of new actors. Maybe it’s just because there’s something so eerie about seeing characters you know but hearing a different voice. Like those few episodes of Thunderbirds where Virgil is taken over by a different actor. It’s weird and I don’t like it. There’s nothing wrong with the performances as a whole but, in terms of the characters, everything is wrong. But we have Pooh there to steadily guide the ship in his most pessimistic incarnation to date. As Pooh slowly learns that Christopher Robin has grown up too much, we see genuine emotion and heartbreak from the bear. It’s an incredibly sad but endearing performance and it makes the entire film.
Which is good because, when all is said and done, there’s not much else going for it. Ewan McGregor does as wonderful a job as he can with such a stilted role. He gets about as much fun as he can out of the strict but absentee father routine before he embraces the absurdity of a man revisiting his make-believe childhood friends. Yet there isn’t much to get excited about. But he does get a better deal than either Hayley Atwell, as Christopher’s long-suffering wife, or Bronte Carmichael, as his daughter. Both actors have a tremendous presence on-screen but get such a small amount. It’s a huge letdown as both characters have loads of potential.
For a family film, the tone of Christopher Robin is a weird one. There are, obviously, moments of cartoonish action and silliness but the overall tone is decidedly dark. Paddingon wasn’t afraid to have fun but Christopher Robin seems so stuck in its message that it drags everything down a bit. Even when Christopher inevitably starts to embrace his old life again there is a lack of carefree whimsy. It’s just missing some magic. So bogged down is it in sadness. Now, I’m not going to pretend that a Winnie the Pooh film hasn’t driven me to tears before because I’d almost certainly be lying. However, the sheer volume of tears I shed was worrying. I was pretty much crying for the whole second half of the film if not more. But this film got me in particular. And that’s probably because it feels more like a film for adults than it does for children.
As a film about a middle-aged man realising he’s lost sight of the important things it’s powerful. It is so tinged with regret that everyone over the age of 25 would probably sit there regretting every decision they’ve ever made. As a film for children wanting to see a bear getting into mishaps? It only works to a point. There are some fantastic scenes of the kind of fun we all crave from these characters but they just aren’t enough. There are some cute scenes as Christopher and Pooh start to repair their friendship. And there are some crazy scenes where the gang find themselves in the real world causing chaos. But it lacks that magic that we’ve come to know from these films. It feels too real in a way. It asks more questions than it answers. Like, if Pooh and friends are real enough for Christopher’s family to see them then what are the implications for him having left them alone for so long? It’s fucking dark man.