Most children’s stories, fantasies at least, need magic to work. That is, there’s usually some means by which the everyday, the known, is mixed with or confronted by the magical. It can be a rabbit hole, a wardrobe, fairy dust, or a spoken spell. And to become a classic, to be read or seen by generation after generation, it needs deep magic; it needs to speak in a way that doesn’t talk down to the child and at the same time resurrects the child in the adult. That’s deep magic.
Disney’s new film, Christopher Robin, has no magic. In fact, it sucks the magic from one of the most magical stories there is.
On second thought, it has one morsel of magic; it has what remains of the innocent wisdom and sad goodness of Pooh. Pooh and his red balloon. But in this soulless and painfully irritating film, the silly bear is all but smothered, shouted silent by one dimensional characterization, predictable and shallow plotting, emotional turns that barely pivot, and …god save us from another one … a car chase. And his red balloon, if not burst, slowly deflates until it’s just an empty reminder of when the stories set in a Hundred Acre Wood could transport and lift us.
What makes this mess even more discouraging is that the film is directed by Marc Forster, whose ability to evoke wonder in Finding Neverland was so pitch perfect. But then that film was about a child-man, J.M. Barrie, who could weave spells like a wizard. And it was an adult film. It was a film that was sure of what it was and the story it was telling.
Christopher Robin, on the other hand, seems lost, much more so than it’s single-trait, uninteresting adult hero, played limply by Ewan McGregor. Even when seen as a boy, in the rushed and superficial prologue, Christopher Robin was unengaging. This is not the boy from the books, nor even the child from the Disney animated films.
We see him on the verge of leaving for boarding school, leaving behind the sweetness and innocence of his childhood world and his delightful menagerie of friends, and he seems emotionally distant. Ironically it’s a perfect match for the adult he becomes. This emotional disengagement is consistent in Christopher’s wife and daughter, not as the result of bad acting, but because of poor writing. They did all they could with the characters but there was so little there for them that they’re left stranded and adrift.
Sadly, the animation is great! A shame it’s wasted on this movie. Once again, we have a Hollywood film that believes that technical wizardry will substitute for good storytelling. It never has and never will. And where there is no Uncanny Valley between the animated characters and the live action folk, there is an emotional Grand Canyon between the characters and the audience.
Except for poor Pooh. Your heart breaks for such a beautiful and rich character in such an unattractive and poor film.