New ‘Winnie the Pooh’ remake is a warning about the ruthlessness of adulthood

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Winnie the Pooh loves you as an adult too. Disney’s newest release, “Christopher Robin,” which arrives in theaters this weekend, represents a new addition to the Disney canon: A live-action remake sequel. Set in the aftermath of World War II, the story focuses on the now-grown Mr. Robin (Ewan McGregor), a middle-efficiency manager at an old-fashioned luggage company trying to stay afloat in a crashed economy. Robin returns to the 100 Acre Wood and is, surprise surprise, reminded of what really matters in life. It is all the Disney nostalgia you remember, repackaged alongside new versions of the characters you never forgot.

The result is a bit of an emotional bomb for those who grew up with “Winnie the Pooh” (either the Disney version or the A.A. Milne books) as a reference point for life. For the kids in the audience, this will be another story propagating the ideas behind “The Tao of Pooh” — the idea that the bear’s silly maxims actually encompass larger truths. For the adults, it’s a reminder that living one’s best childhood is still no match for the ruthlessness of adulthood. This moral is told with the help of all your favorite characters; Tigger even gets to sing his song. You know which one. As Eeyore deadpans afterwards, “He does that a lot.”

Image: Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, Owl, Rabbit, Piglet, Tigger, Christopher Robin, and Winnie the Pooh.
Disney Enterprises

Live-action films have become Disney’s newest craze, as the studio mines its decades of cartoons for 21st-century remakes. So far, Disney’s most successful attempts have been “Cinderella” and “Beauty and the Beast,” films which remade megahits and relied heavily on the original source material — in some cases, practically matching the cartoon versions shot for shot.

Despite its popularity as a franchise, however, “Winnie the Pooh” does not really have a major film to remake. The first 1966 film was an animated short, as were the 1968 and 1974 follow-ups. It took over ten years to make franchise’s first feature film, and that was less a standalone movie than several smaller vignettes strung together. In short, this was never going to be as simple remaking a favorite like “The Lion King” — which Disney is doing next year.

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As a result, Disney was forced to get creative. The music in “Christopher Robin” is the same, as is Jim Cummings, the man who has voiced the silly old bear since the mid-1980s. But the dialogue is cobbled together from a series of Pooh-style one-liners that vie for space next to a series of familiar if non-Pooh specific Disney tropes about adulthood — including warnings about being married to the job, celebrations of children with heroic spirits and as always, the claim that the power of love is strong enough to magically solve just about any crisis.

While perhaps not tremendously original, the one-two punch of nostalgia and Disney’s trademark storybook idealism is extraordinarily effective. The opening sequence, which is done via a wonderful page-turning narrative device, follows Robin’s evolution from fun-loving kid to soldier to jaded father and breadwinner. This is how an imaginative boy like Christopher grows up to be like Mr. Banks from “Mary Poppins.”