By: Steve Pulaski
Christopher Robin begins with a young Christopher Robin preparing to leave for boarding school after one final, last-supper style sendoff with his friends Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore, and the rest of the lovable characters in the Hundred Acre Woods. When Christopher Robin departs, he goes on to lead a life of servitude; he serves in World War II, falls in love with a nice girl named Evelyn (Hayley Atwell), has a beautiful daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael), and works as a mid-level manager at a luggage company, by then played by Ewan McGregor. His life is gray and dreary; Evelyn claims she hasn't seen him smile or laugh in ages. It's during this midlife crisis, Christopher Robin becomes reacquainted with Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings) on a park bench in London. It's just the spark of magic he needs.
As flabbergasted as Christopher Robin is to see his childhood friend, he has very little time to interact with him. He's got to meet a deadline, and Pooh's jolly spirits of wanting to spend the day eating honey, enjoying the company of a balloon, and "doing nothing" are not as amusing to a busy adult like our titular character. Part of Pooh's willingness to cross over to the real world came from not being able to find his friends, something he believes Christopher Robin could do if he comes back to the Hundred Acre Woods. I'll leave you to discover the rest, for it becomes very entertaining.
Christopher Robin is a delightful little film, merging the sweet sentiment of A. A. Milne's original stories with the creative imaginations of three gifted screenwriters. One of whom is Alex Ross Perry, one of the most nimble and impressive young filmmakers around, who wrote and directed The Color Wheel and Queen of Earth. The other two are Tom McCarthy, writer of the Oscar-winning film Spotlight, and Allison Schroeder, co-writer of Hidden Figures. This talented trio crafts a gentle, if occasionally dour, hybrid of age-old sensibilities and brave reinvention that in turn produce one of the summer's most surprising efforts. The risk they run is making a film that's too dark for children, and in some cases, Christopher Robin could elude the youngest of viewers, who would find more value in the 2011 Winnie the Pooh film. Yet in a realm not unlike Saving Mr. Banks, the film is perfectly serviceable, even engaging, fare for pre-teens and adults, who will see the whimsy and mischievous nature of one of the most iconic storybook characters lovingly transferred to the real world.
A great boon to Christopher Robin's success comes from its voice acting. Jim Cummings returns as the voice of the silly old bear and the exuberant bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy tiger. From the moment Eeyore's mouth opens and Brad Garrett's voice comes out, we're reminded how much fun the cynical, pouting donkey is, and Nick Mohammed captures the spirit of the diminutive Piglet quite well. The characters make the admittedly concerning leap to live-action well thanks to Perry, McCarthy, and Schroeder honoring their legacies by keeping their personalities the same. They hold their own in a film that has more than enough room to accommodate their spirits, especially during the comparatively rowdy third act, which sees a cartoony climactic chase become alive in the streets of London in a rare way.
Christopher Robin continues what film critic David Ehrlich calls the "nicecore" trend in American cinema, which boils down to the recent rise in warm-hearted films about morally astute individuals to contrast the grim, dispiriting situations of the world. This year has seen quite a few films that fit the bill: Paddington 2 has gone on to be a favorite amongst critics and audiences and documentaries RBG and Won't You Be My Neighbor? prove — or rather, remind us — that kind, genuine people do exist during a time where it seems that only angry people and hateful rhetoric get any attention. As such, what comes of this film is a reassuring bout of gentle cinema that holds something so many of us love and cherish and subverts it in a manner that makes it a welcomed, and even relatable, spark of imagination and inspiration. It's been a long time since I could say I found a little bit of inspiration in the theaters. Christopher Robin has much to go around.