I groaned inwardly when I heard that Disney were planning a live action Winnie the Pooh film. I’m not a fan of their latest craze for making live action versions of their animated classics. Jungle Book was okay, I guess. I saw it once, it looked great, but my heart is really with the classic animation of 1967, which I saw several times that summer in the Palladium cinema. I guess that was “my” Disney film. The big one that came out that was a must-see of my childhood. Last Christmas, I caught Beauty and the Beast on Sky Movies and again, although the film looked gorgeous, it didn’t add anything that wasn’t in the animated version that I love. Actually, going back to Jungle Book – how or why did Kaa the python, one of my favourite characters in the film, go from being male (voiced by Sterling Holloway who coincidentally also voiced Pooh in the Disney animated film) to being a seductive female voiced by Scarlett Johanssen? What, exactly, did that add to the film except the pulling power of having a big star name provide a voice? With Dumbo, Bambi, Mulan etc on the way – I’m still wondering why? What’s the point? Reinventing them for the new generation of viewers isn’t really a valid reason – those animated movies are timeless classics, adored by generation after generation – and they’re good for several more generations.
Frankly, I was happy to dismiss Christopher Robin until I saw the trailer and saw that it wasn’t a remake of the earlier stories, but a sort of sequel, set some years later. That’s what hooked me in, and I’m truly glad it did, because this is a truly magical film that I would’ve hated to miss out on. It has a message that resonated with me, and I walked out at the end feeling a lot better than I did walking in. The reason for my attitude toward this movie in particular, I think, was that I remembered seeing Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree at a very early age – maybe about six or so. It wasn’t the first film I ever saw in the cinema, but it was definitely among those first few. I believe it was however the first Disney animated feature I ever saw anywhere. Originally, it was a short supporting feature, later part of a compilation with the other two short features released by Disney, but I distinctly remember seeing it at the cinema and being both amazed and delighted by the way they broke the fourth wall and had the cartoon characters interact with the offscreen narrator, and the fact that the whole film was reinforced as being about characters in a book. That made a deep impression. So, you don’t mess with a guy’s fond childhood memories.
At the screening I attended, there were a lot of small children, but it was obvious they were bored and restless because other than the slapstick comedy scenes of the characters’ misadventures in London, there was really nothing here for them. The film’s overall tone and message is aimed squarely at adults, but more of that later.
The film begins with a sequence reliving some of the highlights of the Winnie the Pooh animated films of the sixties, referencing Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, Blustery Day etc, which bring us to the point that Christopher Robin has to leave his childhood behind and go to boarding school. His friends in the Hundred Acre Wood throw a last party for him, and there’s a poignant scene between Pooh and Christopher Robin, where they say their farewells.
This reinforces that it definitely is a sequel to the continuity that was previously set in the cartoons. More so as the Hundred Acre Wood characters are live action (CGI) versions of their drawn counterparts and the voices are uncannily similar to those sixties films.
The years roll by for Christopher Robin Ewan McGregor), he endures boarding school, he fights in the second world war, he meets Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) the woman he will marry, he has a daughter Caroline (Bronte Carmichael), he has a demanding job as an efficiency manager in a luggage company in London. So, basically, he has gained – but he has also lost a precious part of himself. He has grown up and become an adult, assuming responsibilities – but has lost the ability to imagine and to simply have fun. The demands of his job are such that he’s forced to back out of a planned weekend away with his family – so in a way, he’s so busy working that he’s actually losing what it is that he’s working for – a perceived better life. Worse, when he is asked to read a bedtime story to his daughter, he reads a tract of a dry as dust historical textbook, rather than Treasure Island, which she was hoping for. She is also destined for boarding school imminently, so she’s the same age as he was when he left the Hundred Acre Wood and his childhood. He is doing to her exactly what his parents did to him. He is truly a joyless shadow of the person he was as a child.
Pooh, meantime, has been napping. He wakes up and finds his friends are gone and decides to enlist the aid of Christopher Robin to find them, so he goes through a door in a tree that brings him from the Hundred Acre Wood to a small park opposite his old friend’s house. (The door, it is explained, is where it needs to be)
So, without going in to the film’s plot too much, in as much as Christopher Robin reluctantly helps Pooh find his friends, Pooh helps Christopher Robin find himself.
I’ve often felt that one of the real tragedies of being forced to “grow up and act your age” is the loss of pure, simple joy in life. An enthusiasm for simple things is lost in the crazy rush to accumulate money, position, whatever power and material goods one can acquire to be a step ahead of the person next to them. We (and I say this as someone who retired from full time work ten months ago at time of writing) get so involved with creating the life that the advertising media tells us we have to have that we have no time to live it. This film, with its simple charm and deep message is a signpost to the antidote to that, encouraging us with Pooh’s gentle yet irrefutable logic that we needn’t lose out imaginations, don’t abandon the person you were as a child – that child is still in there somewhere. Embrace what makes you happy and ditch the toxicity of the rat race. Stop and smell the flowers – it’s not going to kill you.
I’ll close this off with some of the aforementioned Pooh logic…
“People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day”
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