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Movie Review: Disney's Joyous "Chrisopher Robin" is an Instant Classic

Starring Ewan MacGregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael, Mark Gatiss
Featuring the voices of Jim Cummings, Brad Garrett, Toby Jones, Peter Capaldi,  Nick Mohammed , Sophie Okonedo and Sara Sheen
Screenplay by Alex Ross Perry and Allison Schroeder
Directed by Marc Forster

Reviewed by Patrick & Paul Gibbs

 Out of Four

Let's get this out of the way right now: as you talk about this movie, whether online or in real life (for those of you who still do that) please stop saying "Feels" when you mean "Feelings." We can tolerate and even respect that millennials have their own slang, but a "feel" and a "feeling" are two very different things and when you say "all the feels!" in regards to a children's movie, it's not just obnoxious, it's actually really creepy.

Now then: A.A. Milne's Winnie The Pooh is sacred text to us. In fact, that's putting it mildly, because the characters in the Bible are nowhere near as endearing. For the serious fan, there can sometimes be a bit of an inner struggle as to finding the middle ground between making certain that the works of Milne and illustrator E.H. Shepherd are given their full due and not totally ignored in favor of the Americanization and Disnification of it all, and merely being a pretentious bore. We tend the fit in the middle ground who grew up on Disney, then fell in love with the original material, and can love them both without throwing a fit about the Gopher either way.

Christopher Robin is reuinted with his best friend.
(Images Courtesy Disney Pictures.)

The titular character of this film, Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) ,is now all grown up and has lost all sense of imagination, as he has become a stodgy workaholic. He loves his wife and daughter very much, but he's so focused on providing for them that he tends to neglect his life with them. But on one fateful day, Pooh  re-enters Christopher's life and takes him back to the Hundred Acre Wood, ostensibly to help  Pooh find his missing friends, but of course what Christopher Robin really finds is himself.

In this current age where Disney is doing a live action version of all its beloved animated properties, it was decided at some point that the way to approach Winnie the Pooh was to put Hook and Ted in a blender and hit purée. As you can imagine, this could have gone to either extreme in terms of quality, and die hard fans have been either squealing with glee or rolling their eyes as they anticipated how this would turn out. Personally, we could not have been more pleased.

Despite his beginnings in edgy, indie material such as Trainspotting (and his proven ability to go back to that sort of thing when he feels like it), McGregor has become one of those beloved actors who fits perfectly in a family film (a European Tom Hanks, if you will), and his casting is an essential part of making this work, as without a human that audiences already felt a certain love for, Christopher Robin would run the risk of being an annoyance that gets in the way of screen time for our furry friends. He also has a strong background in interacting with CGI characters, and conveys the sense of imagination that is so essential for the role.

The gang from the Hudred Acre Wood gathers for a celebration.
(Images Courtesy Disney Pictures)

Jim Cummings has been playing Winnie the Pooh for 30 years now, and Tigger for 29 (when you consider that the man is only 65, this even more impressive.). But he somehow manages to bring enough of a fresh take to this film that he feels like his best performance yet, as Pooh himself is easily the most endearing character in any film this summer. Tigger is everything you'd expect him to be, but director Marc Forster wisely never lets him becoming too manic, only letting his wild side take center stage in one hilarious sequence. The fact that Brad Garrett's Eeyore is likely to be the favorite of most audiences is a bit obvious, but Garrett (with the help of great dialogue) really nails it, choosing neither to just do a tired impression or to play it as Ray Barone's brother as a stuffed animal. He embodies the role so perfectly that it will be remembered as one of the great supporting actor roles of the year, even if it hasn't the slightest chance of awards recognition (though the effects may be a contender.). Milne purists are likely to be delighted by British accents (Tigger and Eeyore are the lone Americans of the bunch), and the accuracy of playing Rabbit (Peter Capaldi) and Owl (Toby Jones) as real animals as opposed to their plush companions.

Forster is in top form here, arguably making his best film since Finding Neverland (he was never suited to James Bond, World War Z was a project at war with itself, and the less said about Machine Gun Preacher the better.). He handles the story with a deft and loving touch, and the smart and gentle screenplay certainly helps. Perhaps the best choice made in this film was to not overload it with too much plot, which would completely defeat the point of the joyous simplicity of the source material. There's just enough grown up conflict to make the story play and give a strong message without overdoing it.

The cynics are Eeyore out there will doubtless find fault somehow, but for us, this was the most thoroughly enchanting "expotition" of the summer, and it's destined to be a family favorite for many years to come.

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