Watch 'Christopher Robin,' Then Watch These Movies

Christopher Robin

We recommend movies to watch after you see the new live-action Winnie the Pooh movie.

Disney’s Christopher Robin sort of falls into the studio’s current trend of remaking animated features as live-action movies. But it’s more of a sequel along the lines of what they did with the 2010 Alice in Wonderland. Obviously, it’s helpful to be familiar with Disney’s Winnie the Pooh animated shorts and features prior to seeing Christopher Robin, but awareness of the franchise or even just A.A. Milnes’s original Pooh stories suffices.

Additionally, for this week’s list of Movies to Watch After I’m recommending other notable films with relevance to Christopher Robin. There’s a variety to the kinds of works I want to reference, so I’m bunching up like titles rather than presenting in chronological list form. As always, these aren’t all necessarily recommendations for enjoyment so much as education.

Non-Disney Pooh

Like many Disney classics, their Winnie the Pooh movies are based on literature also adapted by other studios. Before Disney licensed Milne’s characters and stories and popularized them as the Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, etc. we all know and love, there supposedly was a 1947 feature film, though I can’t find any real record of it. There is at least a barely animated 1935 Movie-Jektor film, which was made for kids to use in a toy projector and which presents the story of how Winnie the Pooh got his name. You can see that online here:

Other non-Disney Pooh works you can easily watch online include the pre-Disney “Winnie-the-Pooh” episode of Shirley Temple’s Storybook TV series from 1960. The hour-long musical program features a mix of live-action and puppet animation and is a bit disorienting given Winnie the Pooh’s twangy American voice.

Even more difficult to get used to is the Russian series of Pooh short films (1969’s Winnie-the-Pooh, 1971’s Winnie-the-Pooh Pays a Visit, and 1972’s Winnie-the-Pooh and the Busy Day), which were made with Disney’s permission as a goodwill gesture and feature very unrecognizable versions of the characters, especially in Pooh’s case. He looks like a Kawaii style cartoon bear. Otherwise, they shorts are actually pretty faithful adaptations of Milne’s stories.

Playmates and Playthings Come to Life

Until the moment when we learn that others can see Pooh and the rest of the characters from the Hundred Acre Wood, the stuffed animals seem to just be figures of Christopher Robin’s imagination, residents of a fantasy world akin to Oz and Wonderland and Neverland. When Christopher Robin becomes an adult, his old friends’ ability to interact with the real world can be a bother.

Aside from not being intentionally annoying and troublesome, they’re similar to the crude title character of 1991’s Drop Dead Fred, played by the anarchic stinker Rik Mayall (whose performance became more appreciated once I grew up and saw The Young Ones) opposite the always charming Phoebe Cates as the former little girl who’d conjured him up as an imaginary friend and is now suddenly revisited by the mischief-making maniac.

Less of a bother, and somewhat more publicly accepted as being real is the title character of Ted. Seth MacFarlane’s 2012 comedy (which spawned a 2015 sequel) is basically an R-rated Christopher Robin, as it’s about a grown man and the talking teddy bear he’s known since childhood. What’s interestingly different about Ted and Christopher Robin is the former is an over-embrace of nostalgia and arrested development, while the latter deals in a lighter form of nostalgia — initially even rejecting the desire to recall the playthings of the past — and the idea of growing up too much and forgetting the child inside.

Perhaps one day Disney will pull a Christopher Robin with the Toy Story characters, too. Just imagine a live-action movie in which a grown-up Andy has to reconnect with Woody, Buzz, and the rest of his old toys. For now, we have 2010’s Toy Story 3 as the equivalent of Christopher Robin‘s prologue, based on Milne’s final Pooh story in which the Hundred Acre Wood gang says goodbye to the aging human child. The Pixar sequel deals with playmates/playthings being left behind as children grow up, but it’s heartbreakingly solely from the toys’ point of view.

Returns to Awesome Lands

While Christopher Robin ultimately becomes a movie about fantastical plushy characters visiting the real world, England to be exact, like The Smurfs movie meets The Great Muppet Caper, there’s also the element of a grown-up revisiting those characters’ fantastical world.

Of course, most people are thereby associating Christopher Robin with Steven Spielberg’s 1991 movie Hook, which follows a workaholic adult Peter Pan residing in the real world but then returning to Neverland. No matter what anyone says, Hook is not good, but it’s worth looking at in relation.

Years before Hook, though, Disney did its own fantasy sequel where a protagonist goes back to a fantasy land as an older person. The 1985 Return to Oz is only set six months following the events of The Wizard of Oz (unofficially, Disney’s movie is basically a follow-up to MGM’s musical adaptation of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”), but it’s partly based on a book that had Dorothy aged five years since her last visit to the Land of Oz. As in Christopher Robin, the human hero discovers the fantasy land has gone to shit while she was gone.

The New Kind(ness)

Despite having a gloomy tone for much of the movie, Christopher Robin could be a lot worse and certainly much darker — again, see Disney’s live-action Alice in Wonderland films (or better yet, don’t). It’s closer to old-fashioned, non-cynical yet admittedly tonally confused live-action Disney fare. The sort that would come from a modern indie filmmaker like Christopher Robin co-writer Alex Ross Perry or David Lowery, who wrote and directed the wonderful and sweet and folksy but sadly under-seen 2016 Pete’s Dragon remake.

Pete’s Dragon is also sadly less talked about now, especially compared to the Paddington movies released on either side of it. Paddington 2, in particular, has received a lot of attention as one of the best movies of 2018 (or 2017 if you live in the UK). Like Christopher Robin, the Paddington movies involve a talking bear in London. A very innocent and pure and kind bear with a lot of good moral wisdom — much of it unintended, just natural — to share with humans (and a whole world) that have lost their way. Paddington is more fun with its slapstick thrills and quirk while Christopher Robin is more precious, but they share the fact that the world would be a better place if only we actually had talking bears to inspire us all in the real world.

The True Stories

Christopher Robin is based on a real person, but he’s been heavily fictionalized, of course. The true Christopher Robin was Christopher Robin Milne, son of Pooh creator A.A. Milne, and he and his family are the subjects of last year’s biopic Goodbye Christopher Robin. The movie shows why the real Christopher Robin grew up and not just left his toys behind but hated the whole series of stories his father wrote about him and them.

Portraying him partly into adulthood, Goodbye Christopher Robin follows the real Christopher Robin Milne through World War II, in which we also see him fighting in Christopher Robin. The new movie carries the character further to authentically be married with one daughter, though the names and many details of their lives are changed. The real Christopher Robin didn’t work for a luggage company, and his real daughter had cerebral palsy.

It’s interesting that the two movies were made so close together, confusingly. But it’s even more interesting that Christopher Robin director Marc Forster made the J.M. Barrie biopic Finding Neverland (featuring Kelly Macdonald), which is like the Peter Pan equivalent of Goodbye Christopher Robin (featuring Kelly Macdonald), and now has made a movie that’s like the Pooh equivalent of the Peter Pan-based Hook. Toby Jones, who plays the actor playing Smee in Finding Neverland also now voices Owl in Christopher Robin.

If you prefer to watch a documentary telling of the Milne family and the story of Pooh, last year also brought Channel 4’s Alan Titchmarsh-hosted TV special Winnie-the-Pooh: The World’s Most Famous Bear. It’s standard fare, but it’s also a more sober biography than the heavy drama of Goodbye Christopher Robin. Also recommended is the doc The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story, which is focused on the songwriters behind Disney’s iconic Winnie the Pooh tunes. The surviving brother, Richard, also penned new songs for Christopher Robin and appears in a mid-credits scene in the movie.

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Christopher began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called 'Read,' back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials.