The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh ended its three-year run in October 1991, a month before I was born. Reruns played well into my childhood, usually during that sleepy hour of relative peace that precedes a long day of Pre-K. I remember clutching the VHS tape in sticky fingers as I walked across our toy-strewn living room and shoved it in a worn player. I’d then sit just inches from the screen, watching around the jar of applesauce I’d just upended into my waiting throat. Trust me, it’s not as cute as it sounds; Pooh enabled a decade-long addiction to Mott’s. He’s not a friend. He’s a monster.
Now, two decades later, director Marc Forster’s Christopher Robin reimagines A.A. Milne’s classic character for posterity. It’s a film that effectively captures the intended melancholy of a story transpiring after the fact, even if it probably should have been marketed differently. The film isn’t trying to be a Pooh Bear story. The fucking thing is called Christopher Robin. Within its own context, it’s absolutely brilliant. Granted, there are some clumsily-handled scenes that feel mechanical and lifeless, the picnic at the beginning being the best example. It’s a moment bustling with activity and yet it feels tired and obligatory rather than joyful and voluntary. Forster tackles these scenes with a detached fascination that directly contradicts the energy and enthusiasm he imbues in other aspects.
Christopher Robin kicks off with the titular boy heading off to boarding school and leaving Winnie the Pooh and the Hundred Acre Wood. From there, it speeds through the death of his father and screeches to a halt when Christopher (Ewan McGregor) becomes an uptight businessman who seems to have repurposed his asshole into a diamond grinder. The father of a bright girl (Bronte Carmichael) and husband to a kind wife (Hayley Atwell), Christopher soon reunites with Pooh and embarks on an adventure to reclaim his childlike abandon.
A Slant Magazine review of the film said it “lacked lightness.” For much of the film, that’s absolutely the point. A picture that can quickly and effectively convey the mood and temperament of its subject is on its way to becoming a masterwork. Christopher Robin as he’s portrayed is a joyless son-of-a-bitch. He blows. Even the achromic color palette reflects his shittiness. He tries to read academic texts to his young daughter, and he constantly ignores/converses with a talking teddy bear. Then again, if the film had truly leaned hard into the “He’s an adult, he sucks” approach, he’d have thrown that honey-loving fuck into a fire and continued brainstorming ideas to save his failing luggage company. That’s neither here nor there, I suppose.
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is undoubtedly geared toward children, but the sleepy, almost-somber tone pervading Christopher Robin was also present in the 1977 classic. Admittedly, Christopher Robin shoots for a depth and darkness that works for a crowd that doesn’t include screaming five-year-olds. In that respect, it hasn’t properly gauged its audience. In every other respect, however, the film is a fantastic example of thematic maturity that warrants more praise than it has received.
A paragon of kindness, patience, and honesty, Pooh represents the pureness of true friendship and sets a new precedent for how people should treat each other. Christopher Robin highlights Pooh’s innate kindness and makes a strong case for abandoning your worldly responsibilities and embracing play with a teddy bear. The point of the film is revisiting childhood. Christopher takes his time coming around, but the fact that he does so at all says so much about his willingness to change and grow. He’s a likable character who just needs Pooh to show him the way back from not being a bummer.
Boasting heart and humor aplenty, Christopher Robin is thematically sound, unabashedly different, and beautifully shot. Even if it’s occasionally haphazard at critical moments (that damn picnic scene again serving as a perfect example), it still works as a solidly realized meditation on friendship, work vs. play, and the cost of our lost innocence. The world I adored as a child has grown up, the only notable exception being Pooh. That ditzy little bear is too good for this world. Let’s keep him.