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Siraj Syed


Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 

 

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Christopher Robin, Review: It’s always a sunny day, When Christopher Robin comes to play

Christopher Robin, Review: It’s always a sunny day, When Christopher Robin comes to play

Christopher Robin was seen by us critics on the day when he was much needed in England as the day’s play in the cricket test match between India and England was washed out due to rain. There was no sun around. It is this sunny demeanour of helping people--living by principles and loving animals as if they were people--that is at the core of Christopher Robin. And with Winnie the Pooh at the centre of the animal kingdom, who lands up among homo sapiens, you can seldom go wrong.

To extend this premise, the film has talking, anthromorphic puppet animation animals, but only Christopher can hear them, suggesting symbolic communication. Mainly sentimental, with a dash of humour, this Disney production is good, clean entertainment, far from chases, bullets and super-heroes.

Young 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 him a goodbye party. In their usual meeting spot, Christopher comforts Pooh and tells him that he would never forget him.

Robin grows up, marries Evelyn, has a daughter, named Madeline, and serves in the British Army in World War II. After the War, he finds a job as efficiency expert at Winslow Luggages. He has no time for his family, due to his demanding job, and plans on sending Madeline to boarding school. With his company hitting hard times, his boss, Giles Winslow Jr., tells him to decrease expenditures by 20%, largely by choosing which employees to lay off. This forces Christopher to forego his plan of travelling with his family to his countryside cottage in Sussex for the weekend, before the summer ends, something that really upsets his wife and daughter.

Meanwhile, Pooh is unable to find his friends, who seem to have suddenly disappeared, so he decides to travel through Christopher's door in the tree and finds himself in London, outside Christopher's house, sitting on a bench. He reunites with Christopher, who is shocked to see Pooh, and reluctantly agrees to bring him back to the Hundred Acre Wood, through his door near his Sussex cottage.

Christopher becomes exasperated by Pooh's absent-mindedness and fear of Heffalumps and Woozles. Christopher then tells Pooh that he is not a kid anymore. The two get separated in the London fog. Christopher discovers Eeyore and Piglet, who lead him to the others hiding in a log out of fear of a Heffalump. Unable to persuade his friends that he is truly Christopher Robin--they believe he is a Heffalump--he pretends to fight and defeat a Heffalump, to convince them.

Watch out for a mid-credits scene, in which you will see the song ‘Busy doing nothing’ played live.

Writing credits go to Alex Ross Perry (Listen-Up Perry, Queen of Earth, Golden Exits) and Allison Schroeder (Hidden Figures), based on characters from Disney's Winnie the Pooh, by  A. A. Milne. The team has done a fine job, integrating anthromorphic characters with live actors. Additionally and integrally, the narrative highlights several home truths: doing nothing is fine, although nothing comes out of nothing, compassion for the employees should be an integral part of business and we must be ourselves, rather than conform to stereotypes. These are actually mouthed, not merely suggested or conveyed through metaphor, ending on the iconic ‘Busy doing nothing song.’ Although there are all kinds of animals around, including a bouncy tiger, spelt tigger, and a donkey who is slothful and cynical, the writing keeps them in check, and defines them well, eschewing the possibility of going overboard.

Director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Stranger than Fiction, All I See is You) has chosen just the right voices for the animals to lip sync to. It does get mushy with the track involving the Robin family and there are scenes at the factory that are not really imaginative, but if the target audience is the 6-12 age-group, these simplistic tropes might not seem too bad. His handling of the balloon scenes is commendable.

Ewan McGregor as Christopher Robin is impressive as the man who spends his time between the factory and the animals, and very little at home. His commitment to the cause of fellow workers is well brought out, and his interaction with the animals is just right. Orton O'Brien as young Christopher Robin is watchable too. Hayley Atwell as Evelyn Robin, Christopher's wife, is a stock character, as are Elsa Minek Solak (three year-old Madeline), and Bronte Carmichael (as the older Madeline Robin), but that goes with the narrative. Other stock parts are allotted to Mark Gatiss as Giles Winslow Jr., Christopher's boss at Winslow Luggages and Oliver Ford Davies as Old Man Winslow, the father of Giles Winslow Jr. Good support comes from Ronke Adekoluejo as Katherine Dane

Adrian Scarborough as Hal Gallsworthy

Roger Ashton-Griffiths as Ralph Butterworth

Ken Nwosu as Paul Hastings

John Dagleish as Matthew Leadbetter

Amanda Lawrence as Joan MacMillan

Katy Carmichael as Christopher Robin's Mother

Tristan Sturrock as Christopher Robin's Father

Paul Chahidi as Cecil Hungerford

In the genre, there is the always the propensity to go overboard, by either adding action or turning the story into a farcical comedy. The writers and the director manage not to fall into such trappings, and the 104 minutes are judiciously divided within the framework of the plot.

Christopher Robin is enjoyable weekend movie-going with the family. The humans do not indulge in anything silly, while the animals are left to their idiosyncrasies. It never rises high enough to get into classic mould and never sinks to below par levels. That means you can watch it with your loved kiddos and move on with life. To quote from the film: Today is not Wednesday or Thursday, it is today. But you can watch it any day.

Back to the title, is the cricket game on? If it’s always a sunny day, When Christopher Robin comes to play, boy, is he needed on the cricket field, at least on the second day.

Rating: ***

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jr13IIkLMAI

Winnie the Pooh

  • First appearance: When We Were Very Young (1924)
  • Created by English author A. A. Milne
  • Also called Pooh bear
  • Illustrated by E. H. Shepard
  • Disney adapted it for TV in 1966
  • Christopher Robin is the sixth film adaptation
  • The fifth was made in 2011 and had an eponymous title. It had nine writers and was narrated by John Cleese.

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


Bandra West, Mumbai

India



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