I can’t decide if it would be revelatory or just flat out depressing to count the number of Disney movies I’ve reviewed so far this year. From Marvel to Pixar to Star Wars to the studio’s dwindling supply of self-branded films, it seems that nary a month has passed without the mouse reaching into my pocket for another compulsory donation. And so we come to Disney’s Christopher Robin, a movie mired in nostalgia and pilloried on platitudes that raises compelling questions about work-life balance only to opt for the easy way out every time. Still, this is a Winnie-the-Pooh movie, and seeing the gang from the Hundred Acre Wood bear the benefit of modern advancements in computer animation is almost worth the price of admission in and of itself. Almost.
To be clear, there’s something distinctly disconcerting about watching Pooh, Tigger, Piglet and the rest as quasi-real-world threadbare variants of themselves — it’s not quite Paddington-level weird, but it comes close. Stripping the characters of their illustrated fantasy world robs them of some degree of charm, but the return of longtime Disney voice actor Jim Cummings in the roles of Pooh and Tigger imparts adequate familiarity to abate the aesthetic dissonance, at least to an extent. While there’s an aspect of watching Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) as a fully grown wage slave that’s more than a little sad, those with fond childhood memories of A.A. Milne’s classic children’s books or the animated adventures they spawned will find themselves sufficiently sated.
That said, Christopher Robin’s script has definite issues — and surprising issues at that, given that its primary trio of writers boasts one Oscar winner (Tom McCarthy, Spotlight), one Oscar nominee (Alison Schroeder, Hidden Figures) and an indie fest-circuit darling (Alex Ross Perry,Queen of the Earth). Under the direction of Marc Forster, thankfully operating more in the vein of Finding Neverland than Monster’s Ball, the visual world of Christopher Robin takes on a maudlin autumnal solemnity, and the narrative sets up a contrived conflict between Robin’s career track and the demands of his young family that arrives at an abrupt conclusion that could generously be described as absurdly pat. Even for a kids’ movie, the climax comes across as lazy, and writers of this caliber should presumably have been capable of better.
It seems like only yesterday (but was in fact nine months ago) that I was excoriating Simon Curtis’ Goodbye Christopher Robin for its awkward deficiency of sentiment, and now I’m tasked with objecting to Forster’s Christopher Robin for its excess thereof. Someday, when the trials and tribulations of our contemporary cultural context have faded into the mists of retrospection, an enterprising academician will no doubt find ample fodder for a doctoral thesis in the collective propensity for revisiting beloved childhood icons evinced in films of the second decade of the 21st century. The writers of South Park referred to this phenomenon as “’Member Berries.” Perhaps it’s a trend will abate sooner than later; only time will tell — but until it does, I fear that I’ll have to keep paying that mouse tax every six weeks.