Interview: Brigham Taylor, Producer of “Christopher Robin”
Posted on August 10, 2018 at 8:00 am
For The Credits I interviewed “Christopher Robin” producer Bringham Taylor, who talked to me about bringing together the old (Disney legends Jim Cummings returning to voice Pooh and Tigger and Richard Sherman writing new songs) and the new — a grown-up Christopher Robin, some new voice talent, to tell a story for all ages.
I think you have to respect not just the intelligence of the kids, but also the adults’ intelligence as you are approaching that material. It’s not easy. You need to try to have a multilayered kind of story that way. I think it’s one of the greater challenges. Having worked at Disney virtually my whole career, it’s always been a challenge. You don’t always nail it, but you always want to strive for something that feels universal, both at the idea and thematic level, but also in the visual. Something with enough visual sophistication and enough charm — visual sophistication for the adults in the audience, but also the appropriate amount of color and charm and whimsy for the younger kids.
Comic peril and mayhem, reference to sad death of a parent, brief wartime battle scenes
Date Released to Theaters:
August 3, 2018
Date Released to DVD:
November 5, 2018
You can’t become a child again. But you can reconnect to the child who still lives within you, and when you do, it means even more because you know how precious it is. That is not just the theme of “Christopher Robin.” It is the experience of watching it. Enchanting production design from Jennifer Williams and cinematography from Matthias Koenigswieser make the 100 Acre Wood the place anyone would love to do nothing in.
Last year year we had the very disappointing “Goodbye, Christopher Robin,” a sour and unfocused film about the Milne family, the traumatized father, the distant mother, and the unhappy child who inspired the classic Winnie the Pooh books. This fantasy is far truer to the spirit of those books, and a most welcome late-summer pleasure. Those who know and love the books will be happy with the fidelity to the stories and characters. Those who do not know them will enjoy the film and, I hope, be inspired to read the books as well, and check out the Disney animated stories.
For those new to A.A. Milne: there are four books, two chapter books and two of poetry, about the life of young Christopher Robin (Orton O’Brien), and his stuffed toys, especially his best friend, a “bear of little brain” and unquenchable thirst for honey, Winnie the (or ther) Pooh, known affectionately just as Pooh. With his friends, the anxious Piglet, the gloomy donkey Eeyore, the devoted kangaroo mother Kanga and the baby she carries in her pocket, Roo, the bossy Rabbit and the occasionally wise Owl, he lives in the Edenic Hundred Acre Wood, where there is always time to pleasantly do nothing at all.
But the sad fact is that children grow up. “The day finally comes as it does to all children, to say good-gye.” Christopher Robin is being sent to boarding school. He has one last tea in the woods with his friends, and then he’s gone.
We follow his story with Ernest Shepard-like illustrations that match those in the books, but it is idyllic no more. Christopher Robin’s father dies. He grows up (now played by Ewan McGregor) and falls in love with Evelyn (Hayley Atwell), but he is at war when their daughter Madeline is born.
And then he is home, working as an efficiency expert in a luggage company that is feeling a post-war pinch, and he is under enormous pressure to cut costs. He is affectionate but distracted and neglectful. When Madeline (Bronte Carmichael) asks for a bedtime story he picks up the nearest book and ends up reading to her about the industrial revolution. Then he lets Evelyn and Madeline down again by telling them he cannot join them on a weekend in the country because he has to work.
And then Pooh shows up in London (voiced by Jim Cummings, who also provided the endearing slightly husky voice for the Disney animated Pooh). He needs to be taken back home to find his friends. Christopher Robin (called Christopher by his wife and Robin at work) packs his paperwork in his briefcase (and his brolly, of course), and takes the train, shushing Pooh and trying to find a way to cut twenty percent out of the company’s expenses.
But then he cannot help being beguiled by the charms of his old friends and their enchanted world. Children will enjoy Pooh’s simple questions as a classic comic ploy of having a character whose innocence makes them feel superior. Adults will realize that Pooh’s questions and comments may sound ignorant of adult life, as a bear of very little brain whose only concern has been finding honey might be, but in fact the very simplicity of them is what makes them profound. Christopher Robin tells his daughter that “nothing comes from nothing.” But “Doing nothing,” Pooh says, “often leads to the very best kind of something.” He asks Christopher Robin, “Is a briefcase more important than a balloon?”
Christopher Robin is split in two, like his name. He has lost touch with himself. He tells his boss that nothing matters more to him than his work and he tells his daughter she means the world to him, but he does not act as though either is true. He has delivered the message of efficiency so thoroughly that when Evelyn tells Madeline to go play, she solemnly assures her mother “I’m going to play better and harder than any child has before.”
Christopher Robin has to rediscover the pleasures of, well, pleasure before he can share it with his daughter, and it is pure pleasure to see McGregor’s face shine with the joy of remembering how to play. For all of his worry about taking care of everyone at the office and at home, he was doing poorly at both. His stuffed friends teach him how to take care of those you love with patience, by listening to them to understand what they really need. If his solution at the office is half “Mary Poppins” and half slightly skewed Keynesian economics, by then we are so sweetly beguiled, that seems just right.
Parents should know that this film includes comic peril and mayhem, reference to death of a parent, and brief wartime battle scenes.
Family discussion: Which questions from Pooh made Christopher Robin change his mind? Ask everyone in the family to describe a toy that they loved. What comes from nothing? Try playing “Say What You See” and see how different people’s answers are.
Disney’s latest film lovingly captures the magic of A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories and poems, which have been enchanting children and their parents for 85 years. They were a sort of earlier “Toy Story,” with the adventures of Christopher Robin’s stuffed tiger, kangaroo, donkey, and most of all his bear of very little brain, sometimes known as Edward Bear but known to his friends as Pooh. Milne’s simple prose was a peek into the world of a child’s imagination, including play but also including fear and anxiety and reassurance and friendship. Children enjoyed the fanciful tales but what resonates so compellingly to audiences of all ages is the narrator’s voice, gentle, understanding, and with great affection and acceptance for all of its characters.
All of this is beautifully brought to life in this brief 68-minute film that is one of the rare movies genuinely suitable for the whole family. It combines two of the books’ best stories. Eeyore loses his tail. A misunderstanding has the friends worried that Christoper Robin has been kidnapped by a terrible monster called the Backson. In both, the friends work together
The reason that is reassuring on such a deep level is that each of the characters is an aspect of each of us and each of their struggles and mistakes feels very true to us. Eeyore is the pessimistic and insecure voice that represents our worries and Tigger is us at our most ebullient and confident. Piglet is anxious and fearful. Kanga is the loving parent who represents the superego. And Pooh is that most elemental of ids, wanting to do the right thing and be a good friend but always led by his tummy’s love for honey. Their minor struggles are endearing and their support for one another — like the song they sing when it appears one of them has found a tail for Eeyore and won the prize — is heartwarming.
There is some charming music from M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel and an adorable “who’s on first”-style wordplay mix-up. John Cleese provides the narration, Spongebob’s Tom Kinney is the voice of the Owl, and Jim Cummings takes over for both Sterling Holloway and Paul Winchell as Pooh and Tigger. It is a pleasure to spend time in the 100 acre woods with these old friends and share their adventures, a welcome reminder that while we must leave childhood, we can come back soon.