Say what you will about the Disney strategy of remaking their animated films into live action, but some are actually worthy additions. While we did not necessarily need any of the stories they’ve told, the latest Christopher Robin offers a sweet and gorgeous look at the 100 Acre Wood as you’ve never seen it before. Anchored by a surprisingly strong voice cast and very strong direction from Marc Forster, the tale of the bear with very little brain will make your heart cheer.
The story begins with a young Christopher Robin (played as a boy by Orton O’Brien, and as an adult by Ewan McGregor) saying goodbye to his friends of the 100 Acre Wood. The group consists of Tigger (Jim Cummings), Piglet (Nick Mohammad), Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), Owl (Toby Jones), Kanga (Sophie Okonedo), Roo (Sara Sheen), Eeyore (Brad Garrett) and of course, Winnie the Pooh (also Cummings).
After the group feasts, Pooh and Christopher say an emotional goodbye, and Robin is off to the real world. After time in boarding school and then the war, he meets his future wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and they have a child Madeline (Bronte Carmichael). After his devotion to work and his push to be the man of the house has left him frustrated with adult life, Pooh returns to Christopher on a mission to find their friends.
The anchor of the Christopher Robin is Cumming’s performance as Pooh. It is one of the best vocal performances since Scarlett Johansson in Her and actually deserves awards conversation. There is so much heart and passion in each moment he’s on screen, he will make even the meanest man’s heart melt. That’s not even counting his time as Tigger, where he engages a completely different type of energy. The combination of the two characters are brilliant and represent most the delightful moments of the story.
Garrett is also hysterical as Eeyore. He perfectly brings his melancholic vocals to the role. The way in which the sad-sack donkey is brought to life speaks to the excellence in how the animals are animated. Owl and Rabbit each get full CGI characters, inferring they are real animals versus the rest of the stuffed group. The other characters, especially Pooh and Tigger, are very emotive. The photorealism of the toys makes them feel tactile and real. Eeyore gets the best visual effects, staring down characters to comedic effect time and time again. Christopher Robin occasionally crosses over into the uncanny valley, but for the most part, they work to enhance many scenes across the film.
Forster brings the world to life with stunning visuals that will please both the casual fan and the cinephiles. Recalling some Terrance Malik visuals, Forster combines some great orange, reds, and yellows to bring the most out of the world. He’s helped by the screenplay, written by the combined forces of Alex Ross Perry, Tom McCarthy, and Allison Schroeder. The three seemed to know how to get the most out of the sweet and loveable bear at the heart of it all. With Pooh, they bring out moment after moment of genuine joy and they get to the core of what makes you fall in love with the stuffed toys that have become so iconic.
Christopher Robin leaves a little to be desired despite some very critical character insight. The actual story, about finding your inner child, is fairly basic and fits the Disney theme. Still, it helps set up individual moments that are both crowd-pleasing and emotion. McGregor and Atwell are underutilized, especially Atwell, but they do the best they can with their roles. Carmichael gets to be a very frustrated kid for the first half and does a good job at being an adventurous kid in the second half of the film. The villain of the film (Mark Gatiss) gets to be a pithy entitled British man and makes the most of it.
The humans step out of the spotlight for most of the film and make way for the stuffed animals. Ultimately this proves to be a mostly fan service driven film, but that is what the audience is there for anyway. When movies like Christopher Robin exists, sometimes you have to sit back and enjoy. If you like the stories about Winnie the Pooh and his gang this one will be a perfect film to throw on, becoming a go-to for the adventures of a little, stuffed bear.