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New Release Review - CHRISTOPHER ROBIN

CHRISTOPHER ROBIN review
An adult Christopher Robin receives an unexpected visit from a forgotten friend.







Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Marc Forster

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Jim Cummings, Bronte Carmichael, Mark Gatiss

CHRISTOPHER ROBIN poster


From The Wizard of Oz's Wicked Witch to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang's child catcher to Willy Wonka's tunnel of terror, children's movies have long provided nightmare fuel for kids of all ages. It could be argued that most of the great children's fantasies contain elements of darkness, and so they should, as it's important that children learn that the world they're growing up in isn't a bed of roses.

Christopher Robin, Disney's new take on A.A. Milne's creation, is a dark movie, but not in the same way as those I've mentioned above. It's dark in the way the worst comic book adaptations are dark, taking a once colourful children's property and draining all life and colour out of it in an attempt to appeal to an adult audience. It's Paddington: The Snyder Cut.


CHRISTOPHER ROBIN review

This misjudged version opens with Winnie the Pooh and the rest of the Hundred Acre Wood gang throwing a tea party to bid farewell to Christopher Robin, who is headed off to boarding school. Before departing, young Christopher promises the bear he will never forget him.

Following a decades spanning montage that details the death of Christopher's father, his marriage to Evelyn (a wasted Hayley Atwell), the birth of his daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael) and his time serving in WWII, we find a thirtysomething Christopher (Ewan McGregor) toiling away in the HR department of a luggage company, spending more time attempting to satisfy the demands of his boss, Giles Winslow Jr. (Mark Gatiss), than in the company of his family.

Forced to work overtime and decide which staff members should fall victim to a workforce cull, Christopher cancels a family trip back to his childhood Sussex home, remaining in London while Evelyn and Madeline head off to the country. Meanwhile, in the Hundred Acre Wood, Pooh awakens to find the forest engulfed in a thick fog and his friends nowhere to be found. Entering a portal in a tree, Pooh emerges in the park opposite Christopher's London home, reuniting with his best friend after a gap of decades. As Christopher returns to the Hundred Acre Wood, he begins to reassess the direction life has taken him.


CHRISTOPHER ROBIN review

The days of knocking out any old tosh in the hopes that children will be dazzled  by the pretty colours and ignore any second rate filmmaking have long passed, particularly when it comes to Disney, who in recent years have hired the likes of Kenneth Branagh, Jon Favreau and Bill Condon to deliver live action updates of their animated back catalogue. For Christopher Robin it's Marc Forster who wields the megaphone, and why the house of mouse thought the director of Monster's Ball would be a good fit for a Winnie the Pooh movie is beyond me. Nothing in Forster's filmography suggests him capable of creating the sense of wonder, charm and enchantment this movie so severely lacks in his sombre hands.

Matthias Koenigswieser's overcast cinematography and the drab, earthen production and costume design is more befitting a Batman movie than one about a beloved talking bear. Initially I thought Forster was pulling from The Wizard of Oz, and that such dullness was simply to illustrate the rut Christopher Robin has become stuck in, but when he returns to the Hundred Acre Wood the movie remains just as drab and dull, so much so that if you watched the movie through 3D glasses you would no doubt have to squint to make out shapes.

The story is equally lifeless, with very few bones thrown to what should be a target audience of six-year-olds, and none of the jokes land in the way they should. Everything is slightly off-key, turning a playful melody into a haunting ballad. Where Hugh Grant's Paddington 2 villain was a cad, he was a charming, humorous cad, whereas Gatiss's baddy here is simply a humourless asshole, one more suited to playing the antagonist role in a Ken Loach movie than a Disney romp.

Most disturbing is the idea that Christopher deserted Pooh for 30 years or so, and when Pooh reveals that he's "thought about him every day," it makes it very difficult to have any empathy with Christopher. What makes it worse is that the film has taken the odd decision to make Pooh and friends not simply figments of Christopher's imagination, but actual living, breathing animals whose voices can be heard by any member of the public. Imagine being privy to the world's only talking animals and forgetting about them for 30 years!


CHRISTOPHER ROBIN review

If you squint, you'll find moments that hint at the charming film this might have been, thanks largely to the wonderful animation work which brings Pooh and his mates to life and the vocal performance of veteran voice actor Jim Cummings, whose voice is as cosy as your grandfather's favourite chair.

The best children's stories can appeal to adults - it's why they endure, passed on from one generation to the next - but they focus first and foremost on entertaining and engaging with children. Today's children's movies increasingly have this concept ass backwards, aiming to please adults first and fobbing kids off with talking animals. There's a reason why Milne's creation will endure a lot longer than Forster's film will.

Christopher Robin is in UK/ROI cinemas August 17th.




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