MOVIE BUFF-ET: Oh Pooh, slow start hinders ‘Christopher Robin’


“Disney’s Christopher Robin” is somewhat of a mixed-message of a movie that left me wondering exactly who the movie was for.

The early scenes are a bit dour and slow for kids, but ultimately the movie is superficial, fluffy fun rather than a true examination of the stress the workplace can place on families.

The first third of the film is about as drab, melancholy, and frankly boring as any Disney film I’ve ever experienced. That’s saying a lot because the studio made some true live-action stinkers in the 1970s.

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I’m guessing the dim mood was the intent of screenwriters Alex Ross Perry and Allison Schroeder as well as director Marc Foster (“Finding Neverland” and “Monster’s Ball”) because they accomplished it so well.

If not for the innate charisma of star Ewan McGregor (Christopher Robin) and the promise of something more interesting from the trailer that included clips of a walking, talking Winnie the Poo and the rest of the Hundred Acre Wood clan, I could have very easily nodded off watching this familiar story of a man whose adult responsibilities had choked out all of his childhood whimsy.

Christopher Robin, of course, is the boy who has imaginary adventures with a gang of stuffed animals in the beloved Winnie the Poo stories written by A.A. Milne in the 1920s and adapted by Disney as a series of cartoon features since 1966.

Christopher Robin’s pilot light is burned down so low from the stress of nonstop work that his wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael) begin to wonder if he actually loves his work more than them.

If the plot sounds a bit familiar, then you’ve probably seen 1991’s “Hook,” Steven Spielberg’s frustrated attempt at telling the further adventures of Peter Pan and Capt. Hook. It’s right up there with “1941” as a candidate for Spielberg’s worst movie.

Thankfully “Christopher Robin” is a more entertaining film on the whole. Once Pooh (Jim Cummings), Eeyore (Brad Garrett), Tigger (Cummings), and the rest show up, the film lightens and brightens with excellent dialogue for the stuffed-animal creatures which are delightfully and lovingly animated with nearly seamless CGI. The film is beautifully shot throughout with gorgeous depictions of both London and the Hundred Acre Wood.

As Christopher Robin begins to slowly interact with Pooh and the rest, more joy comes into his life, and the better the film gets. The final third of the movie could almost be likened to the best of the Muppets films in mood and tone. McGregor makes the film work, and Atwell is very good in a woefully underwritten part.

On the whole, I enjoyed the family-oriented film because of the final two acts. In a way, I admire Foster’s artistic choice of starting with an almost lifeless mood and lifting it slowly as joy begins to return to Christopher Robin’s life.

However, I’m afraid he’s going to lose most of the kids in the audience and maybe a lot older folks, too, with such a plodding start to the picture. Once the movie kicks into gear, it’s lively and fun, but that’s a good third of the way or more into the movie.

I think viewers of most ages will ultimately find the film entertaining, but parents need to know that their children and their own attention might drift early in the movie.

(PG) 1 hr. 44 min.
Grade: B

Classic Corner


I love going to the movies. There’s nothing like watching a movie in a dark theater on the big screen with relatively few distractions to take you out of the moment. It’s an immersive experience, especially when the film is actually better than average.

I think I enjoy going to the movies today so much because my family went to so few while I was growing up. I only remember my mom taking me to two movies as a kid — “Snow White” at her behest and “Superman; The Movie” at mine.

Luckily my brother, who is 11 years my senior, took me to see most of the blockbusters from 1975-81, movies like “Jaws,” “Rocky,” “Star Wars,” “Return of the Jedi,” and “The Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Those are still some of my very favorite movies, and the fact my brother took me to see them has to be a part of the reason why.

However, I became a movie fan from watching TV. In the pre-cable television days of the 1970s, old movies were a staple of local TV affiliates.

There would be a morning movie and an afternoon movie every week day. Before CBS got into the late-night, talk-show game, its affiliates often ran a movie after the 10:30 p.m. news.

On Saturday afternoons, adventure and Western films played in the afternoon, while Friday and Saturday nights were often fill with a sci-fi or horror creature feature, and sometimes a double bill.

Most of these films were made from the 1930s through the mid 1960s, when Hollywood’s product was geared for a general audience, containing less graphic violence and no profanity or nudity that became the norm by the late 1960s. While some older films were of a more adult nature, few had to be cut or edited for content.

I cut my movie-buff teeth on those movies, and while there are good and bad movies of all eras, the films of the 1930s and ’40s are the ones I dote on most.

That’s why Turner Classic Movies is my favorite channel. I can turn it on almost any time of the day and find something that will capture my attention for at least a few minutes.

This month the station’s programing features its “Summer Under the Stars” event, where each day is dedicated to a single actor or actress. Sometimes like Saturday the actor is Clint Eastwood, who is the featured player in most of his films. Other days a character actor is in the spotlight like today (Friday) when the movies of Lionel Atwill are on display.

I primarily know Atwill because he often played supporting roles in Universal’s monster and horror movies in the 1930s and 1940s, but he starred in many films in the early to mid 1930s that are of note to classic horror and B-movie aficionados.

Atwill stood out in 1939’s under-appreciated “Son of Frankenstein” as Inspector Krogh, a law officer who lost his arm as a child during an encounter with the creature. His performance was hilariously parodied by Kenneth Mars as Inspector Kemp in director Mel Brooks’ 1974 classic comedy “Young Frankenstein.”

If you like “Young Frankenstein” and have never watched Universal’s original Frankenstein Trilogy — Frankenstein (1931), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and “The Son of Frankenstein (1939) — you’re missing out on context that will only make the movie that much more funny.

The great thing about TCM’s Summer Under the Stars programming is that it reaches deeper into some of the stars filmographies to focus on lesser known movies.

It’s worth checking out TCM’s website to see which stars and which of their films are featured each day this month.

TCM’s Sumer Under the Stars Schedule

Aug. 3 – Lionel Atwill
Aug. 4 – Clint Eastwood
Aug. 5 – Katherine Hepburn
Aug. 6 – Audrey Totter
Aug. 7 – Harold Lloyd
Aug. 8 – Jeanette MacDonald
Aug. 9 – Walther Matthau
Aug. 10 – Dorthy Malone
Aug. 11 – Gary Cooper
Aug. 12 – Doris Day
Aug. 13 – George Brent
Aug. 14 – Lupe Velez
Aug. 15 – Peter Finch
Aug. 16 – Miriam Hopkins
Aug. 17 – Barbara Streisand
Aug. 18 – Clark Gable
Aug. 19 – Judy Garland
Aug. 20 – Stewart Granger
Aug. 21 – Anita Louise
Aug. 22 – Dana Andrews
Aug. 23 – Virginia Mayo
Aug. 24 – Peter Lorre
Aug. 25 – Carroll Baker
Aug. 26 – Anthony Hopkins
Aug. 27 – Agnes Moorehead
Aug. 28 – Lew Ayres
Aug. 29 – Lauren Bacall
Aug. 30 – Marcello Mastroianni
Aug. 31 – Joan Crawford