There were not many of us in the cinema yesterday afternoon but between us I think we ticked a lot of demographics. There was an old couple near the front who walked in slowly with their sticks, an Indian family of Mum and three under tens, a handful of teenagers, two thirty something’s, a stern looking trendy late twenties guy on his own and me in my office clothes accompanied by my nine year old daughter in a Wonder Woman T-Shirt. I think this nicely illustrates the wide appeal of Winnie the Pooh. All kinds of people in all stages of life and with all kinds of interests love that small bear and his forest friends
For most, I am assuming, their affection for the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood comes from A.A. Milne’s books rather than the cartoons, at least in this country. Pooh and his companions have regularly been on screen since 1966 so there is plenty of room for nostalgia here but these films have always been a very different representation of characters. The movies have their own charm but, for me, they’ve always been the most Disneyfied of all of Disney’s properties; an unsophisticatedly conventional version of an effortlessly quirky, deliciously quaint, enticingly rural, decidedly English series of adventures built around the simple joys of childhood. The films may be a part of someone’s love of Pooh but I’d be surprised if they are at the heart of it.
This new live action film is a mix of both Walt’s interpretation and Milne and E. H. Shepard’s. Much of the movie is shot in Ashdown Forest where Milne walked with his son, the real Christopher Robin, while formulating the stories. This clearly gives everything a feeling of authenticity as the heaths, streams and trees are easily recognisable from Shepard’s illustrations. Also, those animals that are stuffed toys are obviously so here and those that aren’t (Rabbit and Owl) are unmistakable not which is something that was never as clearly delineated in the cartoons. The design of the toys is still mostly Disney’s but the lines here are blurred too, which the exception of Tigger whose appearance and character do not sit easily with the source material any more than they ever have. Only Tigger and Pooh sound like the cartoon versions too which breaks the others from their previous cinematic incarnations a little. Eeyore remains best of the bunch just as he always has been, in the books or otherwise.
As a result of all of this the levels of endearingness is nestled between how they were originally presented in 1926 and how the House of Mouse has made them. Interestingly though the animals don’t feature as much as you might expect. As the title suggests it is the unimpeachable young boy that is at the centre of everything, now all grown up Hook style in the form of Ewan McGregor. Curiously the plot is about him having a bit of a midlife crisis rather than it centring around anyone dangling off balloons to get honey from a bee’s nest or finding Eeyore’s lost tail. The Paddington films stepped things up from the book too and also touched on Mr. Brown’s ageing but never took the focus away from the bear which is something they get wrong here. The best scenes are those of the young Christopher Robin and then his later his daughter interacting with the animals. As it is, it’s a strange companion piece to last year’s Goodbye Christopher Robin which in telling the true story of how fame ruined his young life, also saw the guy going to war and struggling to find his way in an adult world.
Of course unlike that film, this one is celebrating our love of Pooh not marring it. In the end the message is that we should reconnect with our childhood and make time for our children which is a notion worth sharing. It just so happens that I’d left my desk early on Friday to take my own little girl to see this so I was ready to connect with the work/life balance theme. I suggest parents take their kids at a time that they might not have otherwise been with them. This will provide a warm glow of satisfaction.
Christopher Robin isn’t the best of Disney’s recent life action remakes of their animated classics. The adventure is slight, trite and predictable; it’s more Pete’s Dragon than Beauty & the Beast and doesn’t touch the magic of Cinderella. It’s sufficiently diverting though and my daughter enjoyed it. Considering my very low tolerance of poor kid’s films that’s a recommendation.
The Ripley Factor:
Two years after Agent Carter holstered her Walther PPK/S it is great to see Hayley Atwell in 50s garb again but her role here is not central and she’s not taking down spies and Nazis. The real little Ripley here is Madeline, played by eight year old Bronte Carmichael. She isn’t fazed when confronted by other worldly creatures and she does what needs to be done to save the day.
Is this one for the kids?
This might seem like an odd question but the film is rated PG for mild peril and war detail. There’s nothing too frightening here though. It compares to the WW2 battle scenes in the Narnia movies in this sense.