Monday, August 13, 2018

Film Review: Christopher Robin

Sexuality/Nudity No Objection
Violence No Objection
Vulgarity No Objection
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable

Winnie the Pooh has a special place in my heart, so that may color this entire review.

Christopher Robin is the latest in new trend at Disney to bring about live-action versions of their classic animated films.  This movie is primarily about what happens when the title character, played by Ewan McGregor, grows up and loses all of the wonder and innocence of childhood.  Christopher's life is marked by a great deal of stress.  His boss Mr. Winslow (Mark Gatiss) has informed him that if Christopher cannot make sufficient budgetary cuts, many people at the company will lose their jobs.  He is having marital strife with his wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) over all the time he spends at work and neglects their daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael).  Meanwhile in the magical Hundred-Acre Wood, Pooh (Jim Cummins) cannot find his friends.  So he seeks out his missing playmate Christopher to get his help.  What follows is a journey of rediscovering the joy of childhood.

The best thing about the film is that they completely captured the spirit of Winnie the Pooh.  He is a being of pure innocence.  He is childlike in all ways pure and in no ways wrathful or bratty.  He is what the id would be if were not weighed down by desires that could harm others.  He sees a balloon and becomes pure desire for it.  He feels hungry and becomes obsessed with it.  He misses his friends and becomes filled with longing.  Christopher tries to explain the complexities of the real world and director Marc Forster does an excellent job of showing us Pooh's impervious perplexity.  Everything is simple for Pooh, which makes Christopher's early interactions with him frustrating in hilarious, heart-warming, or heart-breaking ways.  Cummins' voice performance remains strong and iconic while allowing us to feel Pooh's innocent struggles to comprehend.  And while Pooh does not get angry, he can be hurt.  There is one particular moment that caused my heart to crack a little while Pooh gazed helplessly at Christopher's angry face.  The other inhalants of the Wood also have their moments to shine, especially Eeyore (Brad Garrett), who has some of the best lines of the film.

McGregor does well as the put-upon Christopher.  His arc in the movie is a solidly believable one.  The actor has an infectious smile that exudes enthusiasm.  When that smile enters into his life again, the movie comes to life.  But before that happens, the film has a bit of gloomy pall to it.

This is where my biggest critique of the film is that it chooses the mundane over the magical.  Previous live-action Disney adaptations like Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast were visual feasts of sumptuous color and other-worldly magic.  But everything in Christopher Robin is muted.  When we first see the talking stuffed animals, there is no sense of wonder at this miraculous sight.  As a child, the Hundred-Acre Wood should be a place glowing with vivid magic, but it looks strangely ordinary.  When Pooh loses his friends, the woods are covered in a foggy mist that robs the setting of even more light and color.  This, of course, dissipates as Christopher's own heart becomes light, but the contrast is never bright enough.

I also took slight issue with the overly simplistic message regarding adult responsibility.  Yes, Christopher has lost some important connection to the affections that make life worth living.  But the movie doesn't seem to take his dilemma's seriously enough.  People's whole lives are in his hands and his wife and child don't ever seem to appreciate this.  My own father worked his butt off when I was a kid so that he could provide us with a good home and a Catholic education.  His long hours meant I didn't see him as much.  As a child I was somewhat resentful.  As a man, I understand what a sacrifice that was to him.  Christopher is not after prestige or a promotion.  He is simply trying to do what men throughout the ages have done: provide for his family and friends.  Work is seen here simply as an obstacle to joy, not a means to provide.  While it is possible to lose sight of what is really important, the sacrifice of work can be Christ-like.  I don't think movie is open to this view, preferring an innocent hedonism to an adult work-ethic.

Despite this, the film does have a warming effect on the heart.  The movie makes you yearn for the paradoxically fierce but gentle love that Pooh has for Christopher.  Pooh does what children often do: he helps the adults see the world with wonder again.

If you can see the world a little more through Pooh's eyes, then you will thoroughly enjoy Christopher Robin.

image by Yasir72.multan

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