“Christopher Robin” Looks at Childhood Wonder Adequately

It’s hard to dislike the character of Winnie the Pooh or anything related to him. There’s a sense of pure, beautiful childlike innocence within every Pooh production that’s so joyously infectious, it’s hard not to have a smile even just once. This very much applies to Disney’s recent live-action take on the character with Christopher Robin. Focusing on a middle-aged depiction of the titular character, played by Ewan McGregor, Christopher Robin is able to capture some of the sweetness and warm heart of both A. A. Milne’s classic children’s stories and the famous Disney adaptations, but while watching, there is an aura of disappointment that this otherwise decent family film could have have had more nuance and depth, particularly in its themes of childhood.

As one would expect, the best moments come from the Hundred Acre Wood characters. Jim Cummings, who has played Winnie the Pooh for several decades, is obviously fantastic. Making his voice weaker and raspier to symbolize the passing of time makes the character seem fresh from every other Pooh adaptation, and Cummings’ chemistry with Ewan McGregor is adorable, sweet, and emotional. It almost makes me wish the Academy would focus on nominating voice over performances rather than “popular films.”

While the other characters aren’t quite as enjoyable, they all still act like themselves, and the voice acting is on point in delivering both emotion and humor, with Peter Capaldi’s Rabbit and Brad Garrett’s Eeyore being particular highlights. As for Christopher Robin himself, while he is not the most fascinating of a character, as he falls into much of the same trappings as other father figures like Robin Williams in Hook, Ewan McGregor is still able to offer plenty of charm and give Christopher Robin a solid arc in being more accepting of childhood and fantasy.

But while there’s plenty to enjoy throughout the film, it does wear out its welcome as time goes on. Its introduction is terrific, detailing Christopher Robin’s life from his last day before boarding school to his present day life working for a luggage company, with a moving score from Jon Brion and a strong pace that allowed every moment to feel impactful. But nothing quite measures up to the beginning’s emotional pathos, as the film suffers with a bad case of identity crisis. At times it’s a melancholy look at growing up and the sacrficies we make for the sake of adulthood, while at other points, it tries to be a goofy comedy, trying to create something that can appeal to both kids and adults. In spite their efforts, neither side works, as the rest of the film either goes heavy-handed in schmaltz, or devolves into cheap slapstick that wears out its welcome.

Such problems are most evident in the third act, that tries to tie both tones together, but failing to mesh. This includes a drawn-out chase sequence that becomes less and less interesting as time goes on, as well as an ending that makes very little sense and is quite an eye-roller. Disappointing for sure, as Marc Forster has been able to find success with films related to literary children’s classics in the past with Finding Neverland.

Despite its heart being in the right place, Christopher Robin starts out interesting and quickly devolves into being a bit of a mess, albeit with a few moments of charm and respect to its source material. There’s plenty to admire, especially for those who grew up with fond memories of Disney’s Winnie the Pooh, but a concept that lent itself to strong emotional depth and poignancy failing to deliver on those elements give the film an aura of disappointment that makes one yearn for what could have been.