Since 2014, Disney has been retooling and reworking their seemingly infinite animated back catalogue; starting with the revisionist take on Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent, right through to their most recent adaptation, Beauty and The Beast. With a CGI Lion King still on its way, the next Disney franchise to get a dusting off is that Bear of Very Little Brain himself, Winnie the Pooh, in Disney’s Christopher Robin.
With a screenplay by Alex Ross Perry (Queen of the Earth) and Allison Schroeder (Hidden Figures), directing duties fall to Marc Forster, who isn’t new to helming a tentpole feature, having overseen Quantum of Solace and World War Z.
“You know, since Finding Neverland I’ve been looking for another magic realism piece again, and I just couldn’t find one. And then, I heard about this idea and I thought, ‘Ha, this is so completely original,” Marc recalls. “And I thought it would be a great film for everyone. You can watch it with your kids, your grandparents, your parents, whoever.”
The film sees the titular Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) all grown up and struggling to keep his work/life balance in check. Seemingly at the end of his tether, his life takes a turn when he’s visited by a tattered and soiled Winnie the Pooh, who reminds him of a time ‘when doing nothing was considered the very best something.’
If you’ve already seen the trailer, your keen ears will have picked up the distinct tones of Jim Cummings playing Pooh Bear, a role he’s been performing for over 20 years. Forster tells FilmInk it was key for him to get Cummings ‘iconic voice’ in the film, alongside some more contemporary voices.
“Toby Jones [who plays Owl] and Peter Capaldi [who plays Rabbit] were two people I had great experiences with in other movies,” Forster says. “Toby was in Finding Neverland, Peter was in World War Z. So, I just knew that if they were onboard, they would be fantastic. And then I started casting around them, but it was so much fun.”
Other cast members include Chris O’Dowd as Tigger, Sophie Okonedo as Kanga and, in what appears to be brilliantly on the nose casting, Brad Garrett (Everyone Loves Raymond) as everybody’s favourite morbidly depressed donkey, Eeyore. With such an iconic menagerie of characters at his disposal, Forster is surprisingly calm about how people will view his interpretation.
“When I did a movie like The Kite Runner which sold, I think, 8 or 10 million copies of the book… Everybody was telling me, ‘You can’t ruin that book. I love that book.’ I had this tremendous pressure. And with Bond as well,” Forster admits. “With this one, the people I came across just seemed like, ‘You’re doing Pooh? I love Pooh!’ And somehow, they gave me this feeling that it’s all going to be okay. Nobody gave me the feeling that I was under pressure to get it right. I didn’t feel that on this project at all, which was probably a good thing.”
When interviewed about his decision-making process with regards to new projects, Forster has often said he searches for a challenge. Talking about Christopher Robin, Forster believes that the secret to the longevity of A. A. Milne’s tales is that despite being seen as simple, ‘they carry a lot of substance and a lot of truth.’ The director may have had his eyes on a simple arc for Christopher Robin, but as he recalls putting the film together, Forster admits that filming CGI bears and tigers “was more complicated than I thought it would be.” That said, it’s evident that Forster took joy out of his work, particularly when getting the right look for Pooh and Friends.
“I wanted them to be very loved toys and I had in my office like 40 different fabric samples of Pooh’s fur alone, and sweater samples. Once we decided on the shape, then we put the fabric on them. We shot them in different light situations,” Forster says, allowing a peek behind the curtain. “We did that with every character: Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore, Rabbit… It was very elaborate, but it was important to get them right. I had a test with some people who had not seen Pooh. [They’d] walk into the office and see them. They all went, ‘Aaaw!’ and started hugging him. I was like, ‘Okay, it’s working.’”
Back in 2015, Alex Ross Perry mentioned to Filmink that he was going to be adapting Winnie the Pooh for Disney, and our interest was certainly piqued. Since then, he has mentioned in other interviews how Steven Spielberg’s A.I has influenced his creative process. When pushed to say what influenced his process during production, Forster’s response is perhaps not as out of left field as Perry’s, but it perhaps gives an idea of the director’s approach.
“For me the one movie I referenced was Being There,” he says of the Hal Ashby classic. “I love Peter Sellers’ performance. I always thought that Being There was a cornerstone because Peter Sellers plays this character who just wanders into the world from this protective house. That’s what I thought Pooh was like. He never left Hundred Acre Wood, and now he suddenly walks into the world.”
Christopher Robin will release in August 2018.