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Christopher Robin review – a heart-warming but muddled outing for Pooh and the gang that lacks substance

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Verdict: A lukewarm effort that fails to do justice to its iconic characters.

It’s disappointing that a film with such well-loved characters at its core should turn out to be quite so… meh. The standout moments of this film are undoubtedly the amusing interactions between Pooh and his woodland friends, which are sadly few and far between. When the only redeeming qualities of a film are the conversations between its computer-generated characters, it’s safe to say that something has gone quite wrong.  

Brad Garrett, Peter Capaldi, Jim Cummings, Sophie Okonedo, Nick Mohammed, and Sara Sheen in Christopher Robin (2018)

The film follows an adult Christopher Robin (played by Ewan McGregor) who appears to have grown up into quite the ‘terrible father figure’, nothing short of Mr Banks straight out of Mary Poppins. Christopher Robin seems to prioritise his work over his family and has all but forgotten about his childhood pals, which is told to us through an introductory credit sequence that seems to go on for about twenty minutes. 

We join the story as Christopher Robin’s wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael) are getting excited for a trip to Christopher’s childhood home in Sussex, for the three to spend some quality time together as a family. As you would expect, Christopher’s work comes first and as such Evelyn and Madeline are forced to leave without him, much to Madeline’s disappointment and Evelyn’s chagrin. This blatant disregard for his family is the final straw in Christopher’s life of poor behaviour and is the cue for Pooh to appear in London and teach him some valuable life lessons. 

Pooh is no doubt endearing, with his innocent questions and constant craving for honey but sadly he is overshadowed by McGregor’s Christopher Robin, who lacks any kind of warmth about his character and instead of inspiring hope from the audience for his redemption, can't seem to get over the initial impression of being downright unlikable. From the off McGregor’s performance is nothing short of tepid, and unfortunately no amount of cuteness from Pooh can redeem that.

It is surprising that director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland) hasn’t done a better job with this film, particularly with Robin’s character. Robin is unhappy in his job yet appears willing to sacrifice his family to stay in it. He missed his daughter’s birth and spent the early years of her life away fighting the war yet now seems to have no interest in her at all. He was an imaginative child himself as we all know yet chooses a Victorian history as a suitable bedtime story for his daughter. The character seems muddled and insincere and if there is any character arc at all, then it is one that feels forced and overly contrived.

The first half of the film is confused and somewhat of a shambles; is it a nostalgic reflection on growing up and the notion of change? Or is it some kind of Bridge to Terabithia-esque adventure in the woods? It is as if Forster can’t quite decide which way to take the film so tries his hand at a bit of both yet succeeds at neither. 

About an hour in, the film starts to find its feet and the second half does pick up as we follow Pooh, Tigger, Piglet and Eeyore racing around London against the clock. There’s a decent balance of action and humour and nice character interactions between the toys and the humans. Finally the film makes steps towards capturing the magic it should have been doing all along, but it’s a shame that it comes this late on. 

The best part about this film and its main redeeming factor, are the toys; the CGI is phenomenal and perfectly captures the character and personality of Milne’s beloved characters. Not to mention Jim Cummings’ voice work as Pooh is just wonderful. Pooh’s words are sweet and poignant whilst still remaining funny, the real standout of the film. 

Sadly, this film really should’ve been better than it was. The sets are impressive, Matthias Koenigswieser’s cinematography is just beautiful and Pooh and his friends come together simply wonderfully. It’s a shame therefore that a film that had everything going for it is let down by poor direction and weak storytelling. A.A. Milne’s classic characters really deserved better. 

Christopher Robin is in cinemas now, distributed by The Walt Disney Studios. 

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