DIRECTOR: Marc Forster
CAST: Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael, Matt Gattis, Jim Cummings (voice), Brad Garrett (voice), Peter Capaldi (voice), Nick Mohammed (voice), Toby Jones (voice), Sophie Okonedo (voice)
I was both excited for and nervous for Christopher Robin, director Marc Forster’s new, live action take on the classic world of A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. Winnie the Pooh and his friends are my favorite out of all my childhood characters, so my girlfriend and I both approached the film with open minds, and were absolutely delighted by what we saw.
Ewan McGregor stars as a grown up Christopher Robin, a World War II veteran who is now a prominent executive at a company that designs suitcases for the wealthy. He has become so wrapped up in his job that he has neglected time with his family, wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael). He is successful and respected in his firm, but his home life has suffered greatly due to his gruelling schedule; his concern with Madeline going away to boarding school just as he did has taken precedence over her having fun and developing her imagination, and his relationship with Evelyn has grown cold and distant. Only when tasked with the job of having to make a 20 % cut to his company’s budget by his boss, Giles Winslow (Matt Gatiss) do we see that Christopher Robin hasn’t grown entirely chilly and cynical, as he wrestles emotionally with the idea of having to fire the employees who love and respect him.
Meanwhile, back in the Hundred Acre Wood, there is a darkness since he broke his promise to never leave his friends behind; the weather is a persistent fog of rain, and the presence of heffalumps and woozles always seem to lurk in the shadows. One day, Pooh ventures out to find that his friends cannot be found; while in search of them, he transports himself into modern day London, where he and Christopher Robin meet for the first time in years. Pooh, saddened by his friend’s newfound stoic and bitter persona, sets out to help him bring joy back into both their as well as his own and his family’s lives, through a series of hilarious misadventures and heartwarming gestures that have long defined the series.
The characters themselves look and feel authentic; they lose none of their warmth in the transition from animation to live action. They move and speak fluidly and look absolutely beautiful. The voice cast is outstanding across the board; I don’t need to give Jim Cummings an introduction as he is his usual perfect Pooh, but Brad Garrett and Toby Jones are inspired choices for Eeyore and Owl, respectively. Garrett, in particular, delivers some of the film’s best one-liners.
The live actors are equally delightful. McGregor is perfectly cast as the adult Robin, and one of the great joys of the film is watching him interact with the characters. You can tell he had a blast making the film, and his performance has depth and nuance. I loved watching his initial frustration with Pooh’s eternal absent-mindedness grow into a newfound fondness for his kindness, and the scenes where he embraces his inner child by fighting an imaginary monster with an umbrella is irresistibly endearing. Atwell is fantastic as Evelyn, providing a commanding yet sympathetic presence as his forsaken wife, and Carmichael is charming as Madeline.
The film manages to hit all the right notes without being overly mawkish; Robin’s transition over the course of the film feels very natural and believable (or as believable as a man talking with living stuffed animals could be), and doesn’t try to reach for an emotional pull that’s not there. It’s the perfect film to escape the current turbulence of the outside world, briefly transporting you back to the most magical moments of your childhood, renewing a sense of wonder we’d all do well to hold onto.