Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin have been an iconic part of children’s lives since A. A. Milne shared the beautiful stories of love and friendship inspired by his son and his son’s teddy bear in 1926.
Since the original story was written, numerous other characters have been added, and various adaptations have been created to share the magic of childhood as experienced by a boy who lived his best life with his best friends in the magical Hundred Acre Wood.
Disney’s latest film, Christopher Robin, seeks to tell the story of what happens to that boy when he leaves his dear friends and their magical home behind to join the real world of adulthood and responsibility -one seemingly devoid of such treasures like magic and playtime.
It is a tale so many of us as adults, with spouses, and children, and careers can relate to. But the true adventure for the adult Christopher Robin, played by actor Ewan McGregor, is in the realization that the magic indeed lives on, he’d just forgotten about it until a “silly old bear” came along to remind him.
I had the opportunity to sit down with McGregor for a roundtable interview while in L.A. for the premiere to chat with him about how he came into this project and what he loves most about it.
Ewan McGregor On Acting, Films, and Christopher Robin
Sometimes parts come along that are just right for you.
It can be trepidatious to attempt to bring to life characters from classic books and stories everyone is familiar with. People have expectations about how they will look and behave, and trying to embody that in a way that will leave viewers feeling exactly as they want to can be daunting.
But, that was the thing for Ewan when it came to the character Christopher Robin –while we all knew him as a boy who loved going on exciting adventures through the forest with his stuffed friends, there’s never been much of a story told about him as an adult. Which means, viewers have no expectations about who Christopher Robin will be as a man with a wife and a child and a career.
When the opportunity to be a part of the film in this way came along, Ewan says he just felt it was right:
“I felt like it was just the right part for me to play at this point, in this time. And then felt like I absolutely knew what I wanted to do with him.”
After watching him play Christopher Robin, veteran, husband, father, luggage company supervisor, I have to agree.
Ewan gave Christopher Robin life and created a character that we can all relate to in so many ways.
Christopher Robin is a good film for people to watch at this point in time.
The movie, though set in the late 40s following World War 2, is one that will resonate with today’s audience as well.
Children will see themselves in young Madeline who is eager to have her father’s attention. Spouses will relate to the lonely position Christopher Robin’s wife, Evelyn, finds herself in as she attempts to remain connected to her husband while also ensuring their daughter enjoys a wonderful childhood. And parents will find the struggle that Christopher Robin faces when it comes to finding balance and juggling priorities between family and career one they are intimately familiar with.
The characters in this film, despite their 1940s attire and their lack of handheld technology, are basically all of us, then and now.
As their story progresses throughout the film, we are reminded about what’s important in life and about the power of love, kindness, and friendship –things we all can agree are much needed in the world we live in today.
It is these elements that drew Ewan to the project:
“I think what inspired me was the way Mark spoke about it first. He called me and told me he was going to direct it and described it to me, how he saw it, and what he thought it could be and how this movie might be an important movie for now, like it could be a good film for people to watch at this point in time. That was really what inspired me. And then the lovely script –I really liked reading it.”
It is this lovely script that translated to the big screen in a way that allowed us all to believe that a whimsical band of stuffed animals could lead an overworked man and the family he loves back together.
The challenges of working with stuffed animals.
It is these stuffed animals who played such an important role in helping Christopher Robin be the father, husband, and profession he wanted to be.
My teddy bear never went as hard for me as Pooh goes for Christopher Robin, and yet I believe in their bond wholeheartedly and desperately want it for myself.
In fact, in all of the history of Winnie the Pooh, none of us ever truly questioned the reality of the enchanted world Christopher Robin spent his days in.
It is magic.
It just is.
And you either believe or you are an evil, old Woozle!
But, bringing that magic to life in our world, where real people are dealing with the reality of marital disconnect, potential unemployment, and creepy neighbors meant creating characters we could truly see the actors connecting with. And that is hard.
Personally, I don’t really know much about how filmmakers make it look like a walking, talking stuffed bear just had a chat with a real life human in the middle of a city park. According to Ewan though, it involves stuffed animals and a lot of takes.
Ewan shared that director Marc Forster had the brilliant idea of bringing in young actors to play the stuffed characters in order to make the process easier on the actors:
“We had like, they called them “stuffies”, teddy bear versions of all the characters that were exactly as you see them in the movie… they were beautifully made, and they’re exactly the creatures you see in the movie, except that they don’t, they aren’t puppets, they don’t animate in any way –they were just teddy bears. So each one of these actors would hold the creature and move him around a little bit… we’d play the scene a few times with the actors and those stuffies. And, by the time we did that, I got a real sense of what the scene felt like and how to play it.”
He went on to share that there were various manifestations of these creatures for production purposes –some without hair, others without heads, some that were just a little, hairless, headless, appendageless torsos, and, strangest of all, sometimes nothing more than a stick with a lightbulb at the top all with the goal being to give the actors something to engage with while filming scenes. It helped them emote properly and ensure that their eye lines were in the right space. The young actors Forster cast to play the creatures were integral to the success of the story:
“But because of these great actors, once they removed the real stuffies, they would always just be off camera and they would be playing the stills –throwing the lines playing the scene with you. And also, you could ad lib with them and they were good actors. I don’t know that it would feel so realistic had it not been for their input cause they were so enthusiastic and such good actors. And they were all really well cast.”
We all will take what we need from this movie.
I’ll be the first to admit my skepticism when it came to whether the story would be believable –I am always giving talking animals and the like a bit of a side eye in movies –it’s something about the fact that if you can talk and climb a shelf you mistake for a ladder, you shouldn’t also be pantsless.
But, in Christopher Robin, Pooh and his friends (I’m talking about Eeyore here mostly because he was my favorite) were not only believable, they were awesome. Their features depicted their personalities perfectly and they were such an important part of the journey to help Christopher Robin find the piece of him that had been lost and forgotten.
Honestly, the entire film will leave an impression. What that is depends mostly on you and where you’re coming from when you join Christopher Robin’s story because, as Ewan Mcgregor noted:
“Everyone will receive a film in a different way and it’ll mean something different to everybody, and I think that’s the lovely thing about art… You either get it –it means something to you –or it doesn’t.”
For me, Christopher Robin isn’t a film that asks you to test your belief in magic. It doesn’t require incredible leaps of faith or analysis of possibilities, because it isn’t as much about talking bears and gloomy donkey’s as it is about cherishing those you love, friendship, devotion, and kindness –all things you have to believe in if you want to have a truly magical life.
Christopher Robin comes out in theaters Friday, August 3.
You can read more about the film and the world wide premier here: Christopher Robin Movie Premier