Are you stressed at work? Not taking enough time off? Then maybe Winnie the Pooh can help. At least that’s the task Pooh sets himself for his old friend Christopher Robin in Marc Forster’s wistful extension to the novels of AA Milne, and Disney’s animated version of the tales from the Hundred Acre Wood.
Ewan McGregor’s Robin is all grown up, and having lost his father in his teens, fought in the Second World War and returned to a stable, but dull job in post-war London, he’s a far cry from the wide-eyed little boy who spent his younger days in Milne’s novels frolicking in the woods with his friends, Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger, Rabbit, Owl and others.
So busy is the grown-up Robin, that when the time comes for him and his family to go and spend a few relaxing days at his childhood home, he has to stay in London to work, sending his wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and
his daughter Madelaine (Bronte Carmichael) on holiday without him.
There in the old house in Hundred Acre Wood is Winnie the Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings), the stuffed bear brought to life by the power of Robin’s imagination in the novels, and on seeing that Robin is so caught up in his day-to-day drudgery, it quickly becomes clear that something must be done.
So Pooh sets off for far away London on a mission to bring some fun back into his old friend’s life, and hopes that with the power of Robin’s imagination they can once again be reunited with all the old gang too.
It could be a sugar-sweet, twee affair, but there’s a surprising sense of melancholy to the whole film. When Pooh arrives in London, there’s plenty of humour as the daunted little bear gazes in wonder at all the work going on around him – a concept that is utterly alien to him (“They say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing all day,” he sagely notes at one point).
At the same time, though, the London we see is a bleak, Dickensian place, choked in post-war gloom and draining the life out of Robin. Hundred Acre Wood is not what it once was, either. Gone is the lush, green space of Robin’s youth and in its place, mirroring the journey of its once most frequent visitor, is a barren, wintery place bereft of leaves and charm.
Predictably, Robin is at first irritated by the arrival of his naive old childhood friend and tries to push him away but Pooh, a bear who always came across as lacking in perception, is oblivious to his friend’s grumpiness and slowly Robin’s barriers come down as he begins to open his mind up to long-forgotten possibilities of childish wonder. As he does so, the old friends begin to reappear, and soon the whole Hundred Acre Wood posse are back in town.
It's an unusual film, and sometimes a little too strange for its own good. A totally random car chase scene pops up at one point, and seems completely out of step with what is already an out-of-step film, but Marc Forster did direct Quantum of Solace, so perhaps he now cites at least one big action sequence per film as a contractual requirement.
Such moments are forgiveable, though, in what is ultimately a heart-warming, and thoroughly enjoyable film. Kids will love it for the cuddly characters – here played by live-action stuffed toys rather than the animated versions of previous Disney incarnations, but it’s just as enjoyable for the grown-ups, with Pooh on hand to offer us all a valuable lesson – sometimes we just need to chill out a bit.