Sunday, 23 December 2018

Christopher Robin ★★★★☆

Marc Forster has had quite a colourful career, all told. Making his name way back in 2001 with Monster’s Ball, he’s since darted from genre to genre - from teen dystopian sci-fi in The Maze Runner to self-aware fantasy-comedy in Stranger than Fiction, to zombie horror in World War Z - with mixed success. However, with the critically acclaimed Finding Neverland -  the story of J.M. Barrie and the inspiration that lead him to write Peter Pan - under his belt, who better to tackle the story of all-grown-up Christopher Robin rediscovering his childhood than he?

With a history spanning over 90 years, it must have been a challenge to breathe fresh life into the story of Pooh Bear, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger, Owl, Rabbit, Kanga, Roo and the Hundred Acre Wood, but Forster - along with screenwriters Greg Brooker and Mark Steven Johnson - have done exactly that. Wisely, they shift the focus from the toys to Christopher Robin himself. Gone is the yellow-shirted boy we’re all familiar with; this Christopher Robin has grown up and left his childhood behind. Having returned from serving in the British Army to his wife and daughter, he settles down working as an efficiency expert at a struggling luggage company in London. With his career in jeopardy years later, however, he begins to lose sight of what’s important, and it’s only after a surprise reunion with everyone’s favourite Bear of Very Little Brain and his pals that he realises what he’s missing out on.

Now the story of the growing disconnect between childhood and adulthood is a familiar tale, and one we’ve seen in countless family movies throughout the years, but there’s something refreshing about Forster’s take on it. No doubt this is in large part due to Ewan McGregor’s innate charisma and skill as an actor; he manages to nail the role without it ever feeling like the rediscovery of his childhood is forced (and not only that, but he is of course supported by an excellent voice cast, most notable of which is the ever-reliable Jim Cummings, who has voiced Winnie the Pooh since 1988). McGregor aside, though, Forster has been brave enough to tinge Christopher Robin with a surprising amount of sadness; it’s not at all upsetting, but there’s definitely a distinct air of wistful longing scattered throughout it. 

Not only has Christopher Robin has lost sight of his childhood, but the toys he grew up with are no longer rendered in the vibrant, colourful palette of the cartoons, but instead, in Forster’s reimagining of them as actual stuffed toys, just seem worn out. Their colours have faded and their fur is ragged. Even a layer of fog hangs heavily over a Hundred Acre Wood itself; all of which smartly visualises Christopher Robin’s ever fading connection to his childhood (interestingly, rendering the toys in such a realistic manner allows Forster to highlight the fact that both Rabbit and Owl are based on real animals, not stuffed toys; something that Disney’s cartoons were unable to do). Fortunately, though, this never detracts from the enjoyment of watching the film; there’s a great deal of joy to be had in seeing Pooh and his pals brought to life in such detail, particularly when they get let loose on the streets of London.

Christopher Robin is, suitably, a film for kids and adults alike; there’s a lot to love in it, from the quality of the voice acting to the impressive CGI, to the set pieces. The story itself isn’t particularly original - you can predict where it’s likely to go, beat for beat, even if given the vaguest outlines of the film’s premise - but the execution is where it shines. Forster has managed to capture the wistful sadness of returning to one’s childhood perfectly without ever making the film seem too dour or distressing. It doesn’t do anything particularly new, true, but there’s a real comfort in what it does.

Phil Taberner

Christopher Robin at CeX

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