Disney’s latest live-action reinterpretation of its hallowed back catalogue is also easily one of its most muddled, despite the fact it’s treading a very similar path to the one “Hook” forged nearly thirty years ago.
All grown up, Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) is married with a daughter yet spends all his time at work, under the supercilious and exploitatively chummy Giles Winslow (Mark Gatiss) When Winslow demands that he work through the weekend on a plan to save the business by sacking his colleagues, Christopher Robin must disappoint his wife Evelyn (Hayley Attwell) and daughter Madeline (Bronte Charmichael) once again. But when they head to the country, Christopher Robin receives a most unexpected visitor.
There’s a real discomfort to the opening hour of “Christopher Robin” as it seeks to examine what has become of Pooh’s best friend in the intervening years. There’s a melancholy edge to it that borders on bleakness with some sequences tiptoeing on the edge of nightmarishly miserable. It’s enough to make you question who exactly this film is meant to be for? The faithful character design of Pooh and friends seems to suggest it’s aimed for children but its too dark, too unhappy to engage with younger viewers, who might very well get restless long before the film rewards their patience.
The whimsy inherent in the tales of the Hundred Acre Wood sits uncomfortably against the self-imposed purgatory Christopher Robin finds himself stuck in and there’s no denying the bleak truth behind the charming fables, as told in last year’s “Goodbye Christopher Robin” is the spectre at the feast, making each low that much deeper and darker while blunting the highs. It’s particularly telling that Christopher Robin seems instantly more comfortable in Eeyore’s company than in Pooh’s as the film reaches its crucial turning point.
That turning point sees the film undergo a transformation when Pooh, Eeyore, Piglet and Tigger link up with Madeline. It comes alive in more ways than one and there’s a sudden rush of warmth, helping to deliver the charming, heart-warming magical tale this should be.
The overall effect is like two different films joined together and when the focus switches to Madeline and her adventures with Pooh and the gang, it’s so much warmer and better. This should have been her story from the beginning rather than using her as an afterthought to pivot away from the movie’s depressing opening. As it is, you’ll still come out of this feeling all warm and fuzzy but, like Christopher Robin himself, you won’t be able to shake the feeling you’ve wasted a lot of time focussed on the wrong things.