There’s an enduring spirit to the characters of the Hundred Acre Wood that has made Disney’s many iterations of Winnie the Pooh enjoyable if not as clever. While the stuffed creatures of the classic books may have been slung in everything from direct-to-video specials and TV puppets, Pooh still has an adorable wisdom to his silly nature of misunderstandings and curiosity. This point is best proven in Christopher Robin, a film that tries to place Pooh and company in a CGI/live-action hybrid. The antics of the honey-craving bear and his iconic cohorts hold up far better than a beat-you-over-the-head story about growing up.
While most of Pooh’s adventures are usually bright and wholesome, there’s a darker aspect to his world made real. Christopher Robin finally grows up and decides to leave the Hundred Acre Wood behind for adulthood. Pushed aside are the pleasant tea parties and casual strolls through the woods, replaced by strict boarding school, family death, fighting in the war, building a family, and working a job he favors more than his own wife and child. It’s all darkly shot to look as gloomy as possible and push this aspect that being an adult sucks. It reaches a breaking point for the adult Christopher (Ewan McGregor) when his family goes on holiday without him and his job is asking him to make the tough call of sacking a hefty chunk of the workforce. What to do, what to do.
The silly old bear Pooh (voiced once more by Jim Cummings) might not have the figures he needs but still comes at the right time in his life. He ventures into post-war London seeking his friends. How is this possible when the Hundred Acre Wood was accessible from Sussex? Pooh only shrugs, figuring the door goes where it needs to be. It doesn’t make sense to Christopher, but does it really need to be made clear? To the film’s credit, it never slows down to answer unimportant questions of how the Hundred Acre Woods can be seen and how stuffed animals can talk in our world. I don’t care; just let me enjoy Pooh making a mess with honey while he makes innocent commentary on Christopher’s busy life.
Where the film holds up is in the antics of the characters that slowly work the magic of play back into Christopher. The charms of Pooh haven’t diminished with such silly and insightful comments; “People say nothing is impossible but I do nothing almost every day.” Another favorite who thankfully gets a lot of screentime is Eeyore (voiced now by a low Brad Garrett), the downer donkey that approaches life with a casual depression. Much like Pooh, he makes wonderful observations that make him just as noticeable for being so sullen.
Where the film tumbles, unfortunately, is how it weaves the new path of Christopher Robin. It’s a relatively safe tale of one man consumed by work, struggling to find the answer to his company’s profit problem when the answer is right in front of him, made obvious no less than by inverting a graph. He needs to get to that important business meeting, retrieve all his papers, and still find time to be a husband and father. And he’ll do so by outright stating the moral of the story by its predictable climax, just in case the wee ones haven’t grasped the true meaning of having fun in life.
Christopher Robin is like watching Winnie the Pooh wander through a minefield of bad ideas, narrowly avoiding other animation-to-live-action productions that have succumbed to lackluster transitions. I can’t say the story is anything new or even well-written enough to transcend the tired tropes rooted in the likes of Steven Spielberg’s Hook. But I must admit that the characters still hold up that even a sloppily-delivered message film can’t shake my love for them, always making me smile and laugh. So when the film does go down its lesser paths, finding itself stuck in honeypots of tired writing, I can only shake my head and smirk at this silly old franchise that won’t go away.