Christopher Robin (****): If Hook were a good movie…

christopherrobin_poster

Christopher Robin – 2018

Director Marc Forster
Screenplay Alex Ross Perry, Tom McCarthy, Allison Schroeder
Starring Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Jim Cummings, Brad Garrett, Bronte Carmichael, Mark Gatiss

One of the great missed opportunities of my lifetime is when Steven Spielberg took on the somewhat monumental task of playing out the life of Peter Pan, on through adulthood in the 1991 film Hook. Strange story choices included Pan being the one who forgot Neverland, instead of any of the Darlings. This allowed Robin Williams to play a lead role, one would suppose. It also inexplicably throws the whole idea of the boy who represents everything reality isn’t but should be when it’s the boy who gives up that scenario for the doldrums.

It was due to the horrible results of Hook that I didn’t take the time to see this film when it was in theaters this summer, even though it would have been just as easy to see it as anything with the AMC A List. I didn’t want to see something remembered fondly as a child messed up in adulthood again.

Christopher Robin doesn’t make this mistake. This time, it’s the boy who routinely inhabited the hundred acre wood as a child who has to rediscover the gentle, subtle world he left behind when faced with border school, then the death of his father, then marriage and World War II. That McGregor plays Christopher Robin as an adult is a good choice. His gently worn exterior presents something that can be engaging and passive at once.

The trick to pulling off this film lay in the decision to bring those adorable inhabitants of Robin’s childhood on into the reality we all share. If they had taken the characters less seriously, like Spielberg did with Pan and company, this film could have been a farce. They pulled in the very familiar voice of Jim Cummings for Pooh. In Cummings, we have someone who has played the character of Pooh as far back as The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh back in 1988. This experience leaves the rest of the story with honed instincts of how that crucial character would react to certain situations. This allows the rest of the cast to follow along and react accordingly.

The animation of the characters is a risky venture with which Forster succeeds. The look of stuffed animals left out in the weather through many seasons gives warmth without appearing too bedraggled. Tigger defined orange in my early childhood. Pooh’s yellow leaves an echo in my mind as well. A skewed, more tactile version of this view allows for the movement of these animated treasures to our lives in a strikingly real fashion.

The story isn’t much. Really it can’t be if you want to have Pooh at your hip. Everything we do provides a contrast to the simply beautiful way the bear approaches life. All he has to do is react, with his gentle childish logic and wordplay, and things that seem so important, really are given their appropriate view.

Hayley Atwell is underused as Christopher’s wife, Evelyn Robin. She could have been in half the film and I would have felt the same way. When one spends the length of the film mainly looking concerned, how else can the viewer feel? Carmichael’s role of daughter Madeline is played crucially and perfectly. Seeing her not even feign surprise at seeing the supposed imaginary friends of her father’s childhood is a refreshing change from the usual mawkishness we might expect in a lesser production.

McGregor gives a nice performance as Christopher Robin for many of the same reasons. The only time we don’t know what is going to happen is after Robin takes his childhood friend back to the hundred acre wood. Who would think he’d immerse himself so fully and so quickly?

The sad fact is that the film can only end up in a boardroom, where stuffy old British men find in a few minutes what we’ve known all movie. I have no intention of keeping any of those aspects of the film in my mind. Instead, I will cradle memories of Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Kanga, Roo, Owl and Rabbit in my mind.

(**** out of *****)

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