Finding a Touch of Shakespeare in Disney’s Christopher Robin

8 Aug

By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

After seeing Disney’s Christopher Robin, I have to buy The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh to watch all over again. Part of my youth was spent fondly seeing these cinematic classics of the Silver and Bronze Age. In the live action front, it will forever be TRON. In the animated world, it’s a tie between three works: Winnie the Pooh, The Great Mouse Detective and The Sword in the Stone. The themes behind all these works are nearly the same, and it defines why I enjoy Gargoyles. I followed a significant portion of Disney Afternoon’s programming even as I was older, and the New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh always brought out the child in me. This series did not share the same gravitas as the films, but I still had to watch it. It was food for the brain as I did my homework.

Part of the appeal of this newest entry is the nostalgia invoked. The introduction is also very sentimental. Good ol’ Pooh Bear is given an update. They are stuffed dolls than actual animals and I am sure a massive merchandising revamp is coming. With this franchise completely reimagined, I am wanting to play with them much like Robin once did. Funko POP beware, you now have a worthy challenger to the button-eyed empire. I find these new imaginings just as appealing as the Disney which introduced me to them.

I can still hear Sterling Holloway (the original voice of this character) in my head. My respect for Jim Cummings, the current talent, is even greater after seeing this work. He brought out that original touch which I adored. His enthusiasm as Tigger—oh my gosh! As Darkwing Duck, he’s oh so dangerous. Without him, I doubt this movie could be what it is. I doubt another voice actor can do justice. The team behind the current voice cast includes the added star power of Peter Capaldi to play Rabbit, whom I believe has found his second calling.

Props go to Ewan McGregor for being that grown-up Christopher Robin. Ever since I saw him in that Star Wars movie trilogy, I knew there is more to him to admire. He’s an endless fountain of mirth in Moulin Rouge. His past works helped groom him into playing the boy who had to grow up. This film is about his life and the loss of what he once was. Sometimes a bit of that wonder, imagination, and daring has to stay even as we grow up. This film spoke to me more than I realized. Eeyore is a bore, whining and complaining about everything (reminding me of a certain person I once knew), and Brad Garrett certainly had me laughing and shaking my head.

The narrative is not without its own bleak moments. His relationship to his own parents is not too deeply explored. Before he’s of age to go to boarding school, a lot of his adventures are like a midsummer’s night dream. When he finally goes to boarding school, the film shows he never had a pleasant time and is reprimanded if caught doodling. Students are taught to become part of the system, and they are just one of many bricks in the wall. Tearing down the establishment and experiencing freedom is tough. When Robin’s father passed away, the young boy knew it’s time to become a man. He took on responsibility not only to his family (nothing is said about when his mom passed), but also to country (going off to war).

This film’s post World War II setting is appropriate. Whether it’s another dreary day for the working class, I noticed the subtext going on. Everybody at Winslow Luggage is worried about their future and staying ahead. Robin is an efficiency expert and the bottom line is far more important than employee wellness. This concern is softly explored in context of the era it is set in and it casts a shadow over the main plot. Robin’s strained relationship with his wife, Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and daughter, Madeline (Bronte Carmichael). Hardly any family time is spent when he’s often stuck at the office, and these supporting characters get minimal screen time to reveal their side.

To deal with the pressures from work is tough. At school, Madeline is getting terrific grades mostly to hope father will notice. He has not. The adult Christopher is a workaholic who forsakes one life for another. He was once compassionate and fun-loving. Both traits disappeared as he got older. Amusingly, a bunch of stuffed dolls has to come out of hibernation to remind him of what he once was. Perhaps these creatures are fairy in origin. The forms they assumed were not only out of Robin’s imagination but also in the fact this third race is native to Great Britain. When they first met, they took on a form that would not scare the young tyke. With much of this world set in the woods, it meant escape from reality. Sometimes this action is done intentionally, but more often than not (especially in literature), it is accidental.

Not everyone will take away the messages this film offers. At its core, the tale is about the importance of balancing life between work and the home. The struggles are real, and the magic comes from reminding us happiness can be reached by remembering who we are instead of what is forced upon us. Remembering those simpler times is one way. Never forgetting to feed that inner child simply made me smile by this tale’s end.

4 Stars out of 5

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