Thursday 27 June 2019

Christopher Robin movie review: 'It hasn't the faintest clue of what kind of film it wants to be'


Ewan McGregor stars as a family man in fantasy comedy-drama Christopher Robin
Ewan McGregor stars as a family man in fantasy comedy-drama Christopher Robin

Chris Wasser

What to do with poor old Christopher Robin, eh? At some point in time — when the folks at Disney started remoulding their classic cartoon offerings into extravagantly budgeted, live-action adventures (see Beauty and the Beast and The Jungle Book) — it appears that someone thought it would be a good idea to bring back Winnie the Pooh.

And that’s fine. But exactly how we ended up with this curiously-packaged, Hook-like, comic fantasy — starring Ewan McGregor as a man in the midst of a crippling midlife crisis — is anyone’s guess.

Not to be confused with last year’s teary-eyed, AA Milne biopic, Goodbye Christopher Robin, Disney’s puzzling offering takes an altogether different route, imagining what life might have been like had the fictional Christopher Robin — inspired by Milne’s son, the real Christopher Robin — forgotten all about Pooh, Tigger and the rest of the lads. It sounds confusing. It really isn’t.

Our story begins over tea and cake in the Hundred Acre Wood. The people are real, the animals are animated. You’ll get used to it (hopefully). Young Christopher (Orton O’Brien) is preparing to say goodbye to Winnie and friends. The lad is off to boarding school, and an anxious Winnie (voiced by Jim Cummings), worries that his adorable human pal will forget all about him. A nifty highlights reel takes care of the rest.

After school, Christopher grows up to be Ewan McGregor. He moves to London and meets the love of his life, Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) on a bus. They marry and have a daughter named Madeline (Bronte Carmichael). Eventually, Christopher Robin is sent off to do battle in World War II.

Don’t worry, he makes it home in one piece, later landing a job as an efficiency expert at Winslow Luggages (they manufacture suitcases). Alas, Christopher is a changed man. He has started to neglect his family. He’s working too hard. He has forgotten what it’s like to have some fun, and the stress of adult life is beginning to show.

When the chap’s idiot boss, Giles Winslow Jr (Mark Gatiss), tells him that business is down, and that they need to find a way to cut costs, he demands that Christopher spend one of the last weekends of the summer drawing up a list of people who should get the sack. An unpleasant task, indeed — made worse by the fact that Christopher was supposed to spend the weekend with his family in Sussex.

Meanwhile, in the Hundred Acre Wood, Winnie the Pooh is having an existential crisis of his own. He’s just woken up and realised there’s no honey in the gaff. Worse still, all his mates are gone missing. So, he heads off through that magical, secret passage in the tree (you know the one) and ends up on his old mucker’s doorstep. Guess what happens next. Yep, Christopher Robin nearly dies of fright at the sight of a talking, anthropomorphic teddy bear at his door.

Will Christopher accompany Pooh to the Hundred Acre Wood and help him find his mates? Will Pooh help his BFF to re-evaluate his life? Will everything turn out okay in the end? What do you think?

Yes, I know, it all sounds rather delightful. Alas, there’s a bee in the honeypot. See, the problem with Disney’s Christopher Robin is that it hasn’t the faintest clue of what kind of film it wants to be. Is it a children’s picture? The yappy, stuffed animals point towards ‘yes’. Is it a melancholic, post-war drama about a man struggling to keep hold of reality? Um, yeah, a little bit.

Whatever it is — and whoever it’s for (that’s the real mystery) — one thing is certain: it’s no Paddington. For a start, it’s far too peculiar. There are too many clashing tones. The Milne storytelling spark is missing.

The befuddled script — a joint effort, shared and reshaped by three different writers — struggles to find a winning gag. The talented Ewan McGregor tries hard, but is painfully miscast. The talented Hayley Atwell is missing from half the film.

Hats off to the voice cast, who put the effort in, but the end result remains a surprisingly sticky presentation; slow, stagnant and mysteriously void of charm and warmth.

It’s also shockingly dark in places (one scene, involving a suicidal Eeyore, is particularly problematic).

What to do, indeed.

Christopher Robin.  Fantasy/Comedy. Starring Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael. Director: Marc Forster. Cert: G

Read Paul Whitington's review: Christopher Robin movie review: Clunky return to the Hundred Acre Wood will please neither child nor adult

Also releasing this week: Movie reviews: The Equalizer 2, The Heiress, The Eyes of Orson Welles, The Guardians


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