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‘Christopher Robin’ – On Nostalgia and Growing Older

The Following is a Special Feature on Disney’s ‘Christopher Robin’. Mostly, it’s me talking about themes of Nostalgia and Getting Older. If you’d like a straightforward review of the movie, read the segment ON GROWING OLDER.

I watched Christopher Robin about a week ago, on a Thursday morning matinee, one week after its initial release. I watched it with my mom because it felt appropriate. She’s retired and I’m in-between jobs. She’s my parent and I’m a giant man-child refusing to grow old.

So, we watch movies together sometimes. She pays for the monthly movie pass, so long as I buy the popcorn. Usually we pick something along the lines of a summer blockbuster or a PG-13 movie, as these are the movies I’d spent a lifetime watching with my parents, and I don’t really want to watch a ‘Wolf of Wallstreet’ or a ‘Fifty Shades’ with them and deal with that awkward car ride of silence home… again.

Now, I was very excited about Christopher Robin. When I told mom about it the night before, she’d decided that it sounded so intriguing, that she’d decided to watch the first movie on demand through HBO. This, of course, confused me as Christopher Robin is not a prequel nor sequel of any sort, and outside of its connection to the A.A. Milne classic, was a standalone story. Though like many things in my adult and strangely “whom is parenting whom” sort of stage of my parental relationship, I let my mom discover these things out for herself – sort of like a child learning different flavors of ice cream for the first time.

She absolutely raved about Goodbye Christopher Robin and was adamant in the idea that the Christopher Robin we were about to watch, was an in fact sequel. I did not correct her, but I did see how someone who doesn’t watch an abundance of films, who usually sticks to Hallmark Channel or what movie franchises are out there – could have this misconstrued idea that everything was a sequel, an adaptation or some sort of corporate movie chain – especially in modern Hollywood.

Now for those of you who don’t know, Goodbye Christopher Robin is a biographical drama released in September of 2017 about author A.A. Milne, the creator of Winnie The Pooh and Friends, and his troubled relationship with his son, Christopher Robin – of whom the namesake is based off. Christopher Robin is a Drama Fantasy about an adult Christopher Robin from the fictional children’s story, rekindling his friendship with his best pal, Winnie The Pooh.

Instead of correcting her, I let my mom discover to her delightful surprise, that unlike the movie she’d seen the previous night that was very much grounded in reality, this was indeed – a fantasy film. Blatantly evident once a little CGI Winnie The Pooh appeared onscreen for a tea party, to bid a fond farewell to his best friend, Christopher Robin in a heartfelt yet bittersweet opening scene.

And I emphasize the significance of bittersweet here as there is something magical about this moment. It sets the tone of the movie and inspires a sense of awe and unabashed cuteness; this bridge between childhood fantasy and reality, now intertwined. My mother was confused about there being a literal Hundred Acre Woods. Even more so, by the talking stuffed animals, but she found the experience rather enjoyable – even though she’s not a fan of fantasy and reality breaking fiction.

Likewise, though I was a fan of Winnie the Pooh, mostly because it’s cute and in my twisted mind, a positive depiction of mental illness (Is Eeyore not a caricature of pure unadulterated depression?), I couldn’t help but notice this bridge between childhood and adulthood in that very moment. My mother, now in some ways the child, and my own life, growing into this somewhat functioning adult. I was realizing, the motions stirring within me were elicited from the very nature of this movie and the goodbye tea party, and I couldn’t help but feel sad – as if I myself were bidding a fond farewell to childhood.

And I cannot tell if it was the film, or if it was just me at the moment, realizing how much older I’ve become – much like Christopher Robbin himself. In what was very much a movie with a contrived message about the importance of maintaining the sensibility of being a child. Or in simpler terms, how to approach adulthood without endearing insufferable workaholic misery and still keep that childlike sense of playfulness, alive.

I couldn’t help but smile at the nostalgia of the moment. Seeing Winnie The Pooh and friends, beloved childhood icons that they are, playing on-screen in the Hundred Acre Woods for what was to be the last time. Well, not the last time, as we’d see but a few scenes later…

ewan mcgregor GIF by Walt Disney Studios

Disney is great at doing this. In the past few years, between The Jungle Book, Beauty and The Beast, Cinderella and now Christopher Robin, the company has mastered the art of converting their Studio’s animated gems into live-action adaptations. And why not? Why not pull their audience in for nostalgia. As the children of yesterday’s youth have now become the future parents of today.

But there is a problem. While the adults like myself were caught up in nostalgia, I did notice something that the Disney company itself, probably overlooked yet are currently finding disconcerting.

The children in the audience looked bored.

This is sort of issue I, and many reviewers like myself had with this movie. For as much as I loved the film and the Winnie the Pooh franchise overall, the new kids of this generation? I can’t necessarily speak for.

And so I google searched Pooh related movies, books and TV shows – looking for anything Pooh related that’s come out in recent memory. Unsurprisingly, there isn’t a lot of it in the past 8 years… It made me question what have we really given the children of today to miss out on?

For a movie so dependent on feelings of nostalgia and leaving our childhood things behind, I don’t believe the film left room for generating a new audience. Perhaps a bit through Christopher Robin’s daughter, Madeline in the movie, though that segment even felt oddly separate for the movie’s harried final wrap-up act.

I don’t think the next generation of children really know Winnie the Pooh. This, of course, was hard for me to accept as it contrasted nostalgic memories of my own youth. I remember the Tigger Movie being huge, with everyone going to see it. I also remember absolutely loving Pooh in the Kingdom Hearts videogames, which I know, isn’t at all a good representation… but at least I got to be with my round honey loving pal!

The Winnie the Pooh brand – almost like Neverland, is meant to elicit feelings of childlike innocence and never growing up. With Disney, attempting to keep the Pooh brand timeless and parent friendly, as the franchise still generates billions a year and has been a staple of Disney income since the 1960’s.

So what you have here is an odd predicament, as the movie wants to pander towards its now aged audience utilizing two very powerful, very emotionally eliciting devices, Nostalgia and Growing Older, yet struggles with finding a voice with the younger crowd.

ON NOSTALGIA

I waited for the hype to settle down a bit before writing this, as Disney upped the movie’s promotion quite a bit prior to its release and I wanted to write this with a clearer head. After that, I thought deeply about this movie. Growing up, I was mostly an indoor child – I’d spent countless hours with my toys and stuffed animals, playing pretend.

Which is why there’s a lot in this movie meant to generate feelings of fondness and childhood for kids who grew up with their toys as their best friends. I don’t know what it is, but this film just generated nostalgic feelings in almost every scene.

Maybe it was the voice acting? Jim Cummings, the voice of Pooh Bear for the past 30 years, was hired to return to his title role playing both Winnie the Pooh and Tigger the Tiger. He did a spot-on good job. His tone and innocence and soft speaking bewilderment to the world of London and the British countryside gave tremendous heart for such tiny little characters. Its not talked about but this was a big win for voice actors. And admirable, because in many Disney adaptations, the famous voice actors renown for developing these characters tend to be replaced by the more marketable mainstream Hollywood stars.

Or maybe it was the details captured on screen? It’s a beautifully made film, set in a coldly lit sort of Britain – filled with pristine manors, proper etiquette manners, and a great attention to detail – dusky and yet, delightful in its droll source material.

 

Seeing the stuffed animals’ of Pooh, Tigger, Piglet and Eeyore, worn out as if they were vintage toys forgotten about from the attic – beckoned this virtuous wave of childhood emotions… memories of playtime adventures and the guilt associated with leaving our toys behind as we grow older. All of which served as to take us, the audience, back to an age of innocence that never was.

Maybe it was that opening sequence? So powerful in setting a breakpoint in the tone, as immediately we saw Christopher Robin say goodbye and then grow up before our eyes minutes into the movie.  He goes off into boarding school, then as a soldier of war, and finally, embraces full on adulthood. Finding a wife and getting a job and eventually, starting his own family.

Or maybe…. Maybe it was the fact that I was suddenly for the first time realizing that this may be one of the last times I’ll ever have this experience in the movie theatre. Not just for Winnie The Pooh, but for movie theatres on the whole…

Let me explain.

So before the movie, upon arrival, I noticed that things were… different when watching this matinee. To my surprise, the theatre was packed. As summer campers occupied the middle rows, with adult chaperones supervising from the aisles to the side. Confused, I asked a parent chaperone as to why this was an outing – particularly for Summer Camp?

“Many of the kids have never been.”

“Heh, yeah well it’s only been a week.”

“No, I mean they’ve never been to a movie theatre.”

Let that sink.

Apparently, many of the children attending hadn’t been to the movies. Ever. In an period of streaming and smart devices, computers accessible from the earliest of ages and social media – the theatre was very much a foreign place to them. Which when you think about it, makes sense.

Why watch in the theatre what you could watch at your home, or in the shower, or even on a train ride home? I was confused by that revelation. Though it was also deniability – because when I assessed my own watching habits – avoid movie watcher and story consumer that I am, I’d realize I myself also rarely go to the movies.

In fact, I was struggling to even get a dozen films in for the year to make this movie pass my family shares even worth in.

And suddenly, memories of my childhood began flooding in. Going to the theatre to watch films such as Jurassic Park, Star Wars or Mission Impossible. Watching Spider-Man three times in one day with my best friend. Having my first date, the first among many future ones, was in the movie theatre.

These are foreign concepts for the next generation.

So yes, the movie made me nostalgia for childhood and former youth. Of simpler times and old friends.  Days of play that went on for hours, and moments dreaming of intangible things and wasting hours away dreaming away with our imagination.

I thought about my friends who I used to watch movies with all the time. Then I thought about Winnie The Pooh and I started mixing the two.

winnie the pooh GIF by Walt Disney Studios

I thought about my best friend, who was always sort of like Tigger because he was bouncing with energy when we were kids. And then my other friend, who we used to call Pooh Bear – mostly as an inside joke about his weight yet. I was always the Eeyore of the group. Because of how sad I appeared on most days. Hell, most of my friend still see me as Eeyore.

winnie the pooh GIF by Walt Disney Studios

The thing is, many of us have done this: established their own sort of Winnie The Pooh Group, as people look back at the characters with such fond significance. And that’s all that this movie was all about – nostalgia for wasting time with your best friends, because that’s how memorable they were.

It made me miss them. It made me miss who we used to be.

It also made me realize that I was exactly the person this movie was marketing toward…

I can’t speak for others, but I found the film to be invigorating. Really therapeutic for those feeling stuck and wondering about what has happened. It’s a movie meant for those that desire simpler times. When youth felt eternal and where doing nothing was to be expected, and sometimes, the right way forward.

“People say Nothing is Impossible. But I do nothing Every Day.” – Pooh

Now that’s not to say it was a very good movie. Though, it’s not to say was a bad movie, either. I had difficulty writing about this because it’s a film meant to elicit feelings of… loss. This sense of bewilderment and wonder whisked away by responsibility. Something about having Christopher Robin see how much he has changed; all the while, seeing how much his friends think he has changed, sort of broke my heart. Especially when the one exception to the rule, the one person to still value Christopher above anyone else and see the goodness within – was the good old Winnie The Pooh.

Life gets busier as you grow older. Friendships change. People go in and out of your life. This movie was very much about that. So it was odd to feel so emotionally drained by this movie. Still, it’s not perfect. Minus the spoilers, the film goes into very predictable beats but given how heavy the experience felt building up to it – I didn’t mind the formula.

The movie is depressing. Yet it’s also redeemed in moments of clarity, cuteness and reassurance, mostly through its fictional characters such as Pooh Bear and Eeyore and a Christopher Robin that slowly relearns the value about being human.

So I really wanted to write something special. I don’t know if I have accomplished this – though I will say that from what you’ve read, maybe the film will leave you with a bit of a touchingly bittersweet experience too.

And maybe you’ll call your friends too after the movie and tell them how much you miss them.

And maybe you’ll also feel that it’s still possible for something to spark that magic in you.

Movies can do that sometimes. Especially ones that we relate to.

 

ON GROWING OLDER

Christopher Robin, directed by Marc Forester of Finding Neverland and World War Z fame, is a movie worth seeing but not necessarily remembering. It’s both light-hearted and light-headed, selling itself as a movie about the perils of growing older, the re-kindling a childlike sense of innocence, and finding the time for that which matters most; which in almost every Disney movie, is usually about family.

This case being no exception.

It opens with Christopher Robin bids adieu to his childhood. He says goodbye to Pooh Bear and the Hundred Acre Woods and all of his best friends. We then get into an opening credits montage about Christopher Robins’ life. Now decades since his childhood adventures with Winnie the Pooh in the Hundred Acre Wood, we see an older, much more serious Christopher Robin (perfectly played by Ewan McGregor). He is an efficiency expert for Winslow Luggages and has started a family. Has a wife Evelyn  (played by the severely underused Hayley Atwell) and his daughter, Madeline (portrayed by up and coming actress Bronte Carmichael).

I’ve seen people compare this movie to Paddington films – with good reason, as they’re similar CGI techniques. I’ve also seen people compare this to Steven Spielberg’s Hook, which is also with good reason, as the plot points are almost the same. Both are stories about adult men relearning to embrace their childhoods – though Winnie The Pooh lacks the big bad villain appeal as Captain Hook does, unless of course you’re referencing all the Obi-Wan Memes.

Christopher Robinson does, however, have a good deal of big bad moments with Heffalumps and Woozles, which the movie does a fun job of playing around with – as they’re more of a playful metaphor than any sort of big bad in the film.

Again, there are moments of sweetness everywhere throughout the movie; though, it never also feels as if the stakes are that high. Most of the issues in the film, revolve around trying to help the Hundred Acre Wood cast out of the their own antics; And of course, like many great British setting films before it, how to get the truth across while still maintaining proper manners (If enough people reach out to me after reading this, I will do a play-by-play analysis about how SO MUCH CONFLICT SET IN BRITISH FICTION is set about because two well-meaning and mannered speaking characters are unable to convey how they truly feel).

Likewise, for a movie about best friends who’ve grown older, there aren’t many moments of chemistry in action. It’s odd, but we don’t see Tigger and Pooh working together, or feel compelled by Roo or Owl or Rabbit. Mostly, in terms of acting, it’s the Christopher Robin as Ewan McGreggor and Jim Cummings as Winnie The Pooh/Tigger, show. Though of the voice acting, I’ll also mention Brad Garrett, as his Eeyore was spot on and had some of the movie’s funniest moments.

Haley Atwood, the unbelievably talented woman she is in Agent Carter and Black Mirror, is severely underutilized. And although she does her best with the script, there isn’t too much room for Bronte Carmichael and I wondered if act three’s misadventure was more of a later on re-write?

As the writing is not at its best towards the end. It sort of gets there in your typical Hollywood movie sort of wrap up and doesn’t go to new places with the story. I wonder about this. For just as we the audience have grown, so has the idea of Winnie The Pooh – yet the final draft of the scripts fails to capitalize on modernizing the character.

For instance, and I just needed to mention this because it’s a case and point of Pooh relevancy yet disconnection from the modern audience- Winnie The Pooh is also a symbol combating communism in China.

Yes, I’m going to go there at the end of my review.

For those who read my articles, you’ll remember my wariness of Chinese film companies making an impact in Western Markets– particularly in Wanda Corp and Legacy pictures – as the world’s second-largest developing film market seems to censor a lot of foreign films for political reasons. To me, this sort of misses the point of telling stories for myself, both as a critic and a screenwriter. Though rather than listen to me rant any longer you can also just play this John Oliver Clip here:

Final Take

Christopher Robin has strong emotions and stellar performances in its two leads. The writing leaves much to be said and the audience its marketed toward is sort of muddled. Still, it’s compelling if you’re in it for the emotional tones – just hug your best friend from childhood afterwards if you can, for me.

About Christian Angeles

Christian Angeles likes to watch the moving pictures. He also listens to words on the page and writes in ways that make people feel things. All on a laptop. Sometimes from an app on his phone. You can follow him on Facebook or Instagram. Read his literature reviews on goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/xnangeles. Or read his articles in NewBrunswickToday: http://newbrunswicktoday.com/author/christian-angeles

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