Building Entertainment: The Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Christopher Robin

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: Christopher Robin

Year: 2018

Source materials: The film is inspired by A. A. Milne and E. H. Shepard’s Winnie-the-Pooh books

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Budget:  $75 million

Box office: $197 illion

Plot:

Christopher Robin is leaving for boarding school, so his friends from the Hundred Acre Wood – Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, Owl, and Rabbit – throw a goodbye party. Christopher comforts Pooh and tells him that he will never forget him.

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Christopher goes to boarding school, where he is reprimanded for drawing pictures of Pooh in class. His experiences at boarding school and the death of his father force him to mature quickly and he forgets all about the Hundred Acre Wood and his friends there. He grows up, meets and marries architect Evelyn, with whom he has a daughter named Madeline. He serves in the British Army during World War II.

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After the war, he works as Director of Efficiency at Winslow Luggages. He neglects his family due to his demanding job and plans on sending Madeline to boarding school. With the company hitting hard times, Christopher’s superior, Giles Winslow Jr. tells him to decrease expenditures by 20%, largely by choosing which employees to lay off, and to present his plan on Monday. This causes Christopher to miss joining his family at their countryside cottage in Sussex for a summer-ending weekend.

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When Pooh awakens the next morning and is unable to find his friends, he decides to travel through the door through which Christopher Robin is known to emerge and finds himself in London. He reunites with Christopher, who is shocked to see Pooh, but takes him back to his London home. After a night and morning of chaos, Christopher escorts Pooh back to Sussex on the next train.

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After sneaking past Christopher’s cottage, the two enter the Hundred Acre Wood. Christopher becomes exasperated by Pooh’s absent-mindedness and fear of Heffalumps and Woozles. Pooh, in an attempt to return Christopher’s compass to him, trips into Christopher’s briefcase and his papers spill onto the ground. Christopher, enraged, yells at Pooh and tells him that he is a bear of very, very little brain, before the two get separated in the fog. Then, having heard a Heffalump’s call and getting knocked, having fallen into a Heffalump and Woozle trap, Christopher discovers Eeyore and Piglet, who lead him to the others, hiding in a log out of fear of a Heffalump (revealed to be the squeaking of a rusty weathercock from Owl’s house after the wind made it fall from its tree while they were having tea).

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Unable to persuade his friends that he is truly Christopher Robin, he pretends to defeat the Heffalump to convince them. Having vanquished the Heffalump, Christopher finally convinces his friends that he is Christopher Robin, and they joyfully greet him. When they reunite with Pooh, Christopher apologizes for getting upset earlier. Christopher tells Pooh how lost he feels, but Pooh reminds him that they have found each other and comforts him with a hug. The next morning, Christopher rushes from the Hundred Acre Wood to make his presentation as Tigger gives him his briefcase. On the way, he encounters his family, but much to Madeline’s disappointment, he leaves to go to London.

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Pooh realizes that Tigger removed Christopher’s paperwork when drying his briefcase, so Pooh, Tigger, Piglet and Eeyore travel to London to get it back. They meet Madeline, who recognizes them from her father’s drawings. Madeline joins them, wanting to dissuade her father about boarding school. Evelyn follows after discovering a note Madeline left. At his presentation, Christopher discovers that his briefcase contains items from the Wood that Tigger had given him (including Eeyore’s detachable tail). Evelyn arrives and Christopher joins her to search London for Madeline. Madeline’s group stow away in Winslow company crates, but Tigger, Eeyore and Piglet are accidentally thrown out, and they encounter Christopher and Evelyn in the process. Pooh and Madeline arrive near the Winslow building and reunite with Christopher and the others, but Madeline accidentally trips on the stairs and loses all but one of the papers, upsetting her and Pooh. Christopher assures Madeline of her importance to him and that he will not send her to boarding school.

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Using his remaining paperwork, Christopher improvises a new plan involving reducing the prices of luggage, selling their luggage to everyday people to increase demand and giving employees paid leave. Winslow Jr., who was hoping to lay off some of the staff, dismisses the idea, but Winslow Sr. warms to it and agrees to the plan. Winslow Jr. is humiliated as Christopher denounces him as nothing but a slinking Woozle, pointing out that he contributed nothing to the plan, having been out golfing all weekend.

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Christopher, along with Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore and Piglet, finally takes his family into the Hundred Acre Wood to meet the rest of his friends. As everyone relaxes at a picnic, Edward Bear (Pooh) and Christopher Robin both share a tender moment together.

In a mid-credits scene, the employees of Winslow’s are seen having fun at the beach while Richard M. Sherman performs “Busy Doing Nothing” on a piano. Pooh, Tigger, Piglet and Eeyore are relaxing on beach chairs with Eeyore saying “Thank you for noticing me”.

Background: Initially in 2003, Brigham Taylor, inspired by the last chapter of The House at Pooh Corner, pitched to Disney an idea about a Winnie the Pooh film focusing on an adult Christopher Robin. However, due to other Pooh projects being in development at the time, the project was not pitched for a film. In 2015, Kristin Burr later convinced Taylor to resurrect the project, which the two then started working on in 2015.

On April 2, 2015, Walt Disney Pictures announced that a live-action adaptation based on the characters from the Winnie the Pooh franchise was in development which would take a similar pattern to Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent, and  Cinderella. Alex Ross Perry was hired to write the script and Brigham Taylor hired to produce the film, about an adult Christopher Robin returning to the Hundred Acre Wood to spend time with Pooh and the gang.

Much of the filming of the Hundred Acre Wood scenes took place at Ashdown Forest, which was the original inspiration for the setting, as well as Windsor Great Park, at Shepperton Studios and at Dover seafront and the former Dover Marine Station, now the town’s cruise terminal which doubled as a London railway station. Visual effects studios Framestore and Method Studios, lead the animation for the Hundred Acre Wood characters, with Overall Vfx Supervisor Chris Lawrence and Animation Supervisor Michael Eames leading the teams.

Music: Jóhann Jóhannsson was hired to score the film, shortly before his death on February 9, 2018. The film is dedicated to his memory. Klaus Badelt was announced as taking over composing duties for Jóhannsson, but the score was ultimately written by Jon Brion and Geoff Zanelli
At an Academy event, songwriter and Disney Legend Richard M. Sherman revealed that the film would feature the iconic “Winnie the Pooh” theme, and that he was working on three new songs for the film, titled “Goodbye Farewell”, “Busy Doing Nothing” and “Christopher Robin”, with the first one being performed by the voice cast, and the last two by Sherman.

Cast: Jim Cummings returns as the voices of Winnie-the-pooh and Tigger. Brad Garrett returns as the voice of Eeyore. Mackenzie Crook returns as a newspaper seller. Richard Sherman appears as a piano player.

Ewan McGregor as Christopher Robin. Some of his best known roles include Mark Renton in Trainspotting, and T2 Trainspotting, Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Christian in Moulin Rouge!, Edward Bloom in Big Fish, Rodney Copperbottom in Robots, Camerlengo Father Patrick McKenna in Angels and Demons, “the ghost” in The Ghost Writer, Dr. Alfred Jones in  Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Lumière in the live-action Beauty and the Beast, and Dan Torrance in Doctor Sleep. He appeared as Black Mask in  Birds of Prey. Hayley Atwell as Evelyn Robin. Her breakthrough role was Elizabeth Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire in The Duchess, followed by her appearance in The Pillars of the Earth. She rose to prominence for her portrayal of Peggy Carter in Captain America: The First Avenger, a role she would reprise in the series Agent Carter, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, and the films Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Antman, and Avengers: Endgame. She appeared in Testament of Youth and Cinderella. On the stage, Atwell achieved a Laurence Olivier Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress in A View from the Bridge and nominations for Best Actress for her leading performances in The Pride and Rosmersholm.

Mark Gatiss as Giles Winslow. His work includes writing for and acting in the TV series Doctor Who, Sherlock, and Dracula. He is a member of the comedy team The League of Gentlemen. He played Tycho Nestoris in Game of Thrones. Oliver Ford Davies as Old Man Winslow. He is best known for his role as Sio Bibble in the Star Wars films and for his role as Cressen in Game of Thrones. He has also appeared in Sense and Sensibility, Mrs. Brown, Johnny English and The Deep Blue Sea.

Nick Mohammed as Piglet. He appeared in Reggie Perrin, The King Is Dead, Sorry, I’ve Got No Head, Hank Zipzer, and  The Job Lot. Peter Capaldi as Rabbit. He portrayed the twelfth incarnation of the Doctor in Doctor Who and Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It, for which he has received four British Academy Television Award nominations, winning Best Male Comedy Performance in 2010. He reprised the role in the feature film In the Loop. As a director, Capaldi won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film and the BAFTA Award for Best Short Film for his short film Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life. He appeared in The Field of Blood, Big Fat Gypsy Gangster, The Hour, World War Z, Inside the Mind of Leonardo,The Fifth Estate, and The Three Musketeers. He appeared as Paddington Bear’s neighbour Mr Curry in Paddington and its sequel.

Sophie Okonedo as Kanga. Okonedo’s breakthrough performance came in 2004, when she co-starred in the film Hotel Rwanda as Tatiana Rusesabagina. For this role, she became the second black female Briton to receive a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress at the 77th Academy Awards in 2005. Her other film roles include Æon Flux, Skin,and The Secret Life of Bees. She made her Broadway debut in the 2014 revival of A Raisin in the Sun and received a Drama Desk Award nomination for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play and won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her portrayal of Ruth Younger. Toby Jones as the voice of Owl. His breakthrough role was Truman Capote in the biopic Infamous. Since then, his films have included The Mist, W., Frost/Nixon, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Berberian Sound Studio, The Hunger Games, Tale of Tales, Dad’s Army, and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. He also provided the voice of Dobby in the Harry Potter films, Aristides Silk in The Adventures of Tintin, and and portrayed Arnim Zola in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films Captain America: The First Avengerand Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Jones’s television credits include the 2012 Titanic miniseries, Agent Carter, Wayward Pines, and Doctor Who.

  • Critical Reception:
    Ben Kenigsberg of The New York Times reviewed the film and said: “Once Christopher Robin softens its insufferable, needlessly cynical conception of the title character, it offers more or less what a Pooh reboot should: a lot of nostalgia, a bit of humor and tactile computer animation.”
  • David Sims of The Atlantic wrote, “It’s an odd, melancholic experience that at times recalls Terrence Malick as it does A. A. Milne, but there will certainly be some viewers in its exact wheelhouse.”
  •  Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune gave the film a 3 out of 4 stars and said, “Pooh’s wisdom and kindness cannot be denied. The same impulses worked for the two Paddington movies, God knows. Christopher Robin isn’t quite in their league, but it’s affecting nonetheless.”
  •  Richard Lawson of Vanity Fair gave the film a positive review and heavily praised the voice performance from Cummings, calling it “Oscar-worthy”.
  • David Fear of Rolling Stone said, “[McGregor is] an actor who can roll with this movie’s punches, whether it requires him to be light on his feet or dragged down by existential despair, exhilarated by childlike play or exasperated by a house-wrecking creature who says things like, ‘People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day’.”
  • Adam Forsgren for East Idaho News wrote, “First and foremost is McGregor’s performance in the title role. The guy sells being the put-upon, overburdened office drone so well that it’s a treat to see him begin to rediscover his younger self and let himself play…McGregor is the glue that holds this whole movie together.”
  • Stephanie Zacharek of Time magazine stated, “But it’s doubtful the movie would work at all if not for McGregor: He turns Christopher’s anxiety into a haunting presence, the kind of storm cloud that we can all, now and then, feel hovering above us. Yet McGregor is also an actor capable of expressing unalloyed delight. And when, as Christopher Robin, he finally does, some of that delight rubs off on us too.”

Legacy: Pooh merchandise is still some of the best-selling in the parks

My take: Okay, I started crying during the credits. I love that the style of the toys is from the EH Shepard illustrations (with a few Disney details added). Cummings sounds just like Sterling Holloway and Paul Winchell. Belle remarked that the characters looked tactile, as if you could actually pick them up. McGregor sells the reality.

Available on Disney +?:It will be available on September 5, 2020. Currently available on Netflix

Next Week: Toy Story 4