After having seen Christopher Robin at the press preview last Thursday, I recently attended the press junket for the movie where I had the chance to talk to the cast and director about their approach to making the film. Jim Cummings — the voice of Winnie the Pooh for many years along with Tigger — was delightful and humble about his role in the new film. To him, it was a “blessing and an honor to carry these forward to a new generation in a fresh way. It’s a duty to do the voices right.”
Cummings is surrounded by a new cast of well-known names and up and coming actors. He found that, “Everything that you have loved about these characters in the past are there with the new actors.” The voice of Eeyore is Brad Garrett of Everybody Loves Raymond fame. To Cummings, “Brad Garrett is going to kill you, he is so funny. He’s the perfect Eeyore.”
Cummings was blunt in his thoughts about the filmmaking process. “You don’t want to do it Roger Rabbit style because that’s not what this genre supports.” Where Christopher Robin stands within the Winnie-the-Pooh movie lexicon, Cummings stated that, “It’s not the same, but it’s just as magical. People are going to respond to it beautifully.”
What does Jim Cummings want people to know about the new film and how it relates to us today? “The world can catch up to you, no matter who you are or what you do. It’s easy to forget what’s important when you are beating out the 9-5 and bringing home the paycheck. Pooh still sees the world through honey-colored glasses. He still has his sense of wonder.”
For lead stars Ewan McGregor and Hayley Atwell, they see the film and the personal moments of the characters as important. The Christopher Robin that McGregor plays is an adult who doesn’t have time to play with stuffed animals. “When I lose my temper with him, Pooh experiences the pain, without throwing it back at me.”
What brought McGregor into another iconic Disney franchise? Having worked with director Marc Forster and having built a friendship led to a desire for more collaboration. “When he spoke to me about this, I loved the way he talked about it. The way he described it didn’t sound to me like a Disney remake in a way, it sounded like what you see in the movie, an artfulness, and a darkness, which is surprising.”
For Hayley Atwell who plays Evelyn Robin, it was the childhood innocence that everyone could relate too. Atwell is well known for her part in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Agent Carter, though she didn’t see her entry into the Winnie-the-Pooh world as taking on another massive film franchise. “It felt like an individual filmmaker coming in. Taking a story under the umbrella of this huge institution of Disney that has been telling Pooh’s story.”
The family dynamics that play out throughout the movie is something that crosses decades and time periods. McGregor could empathize with parents of the time. “As a dad at that time, it would be unusual for him to sense that he wasn’t close to his children. Christopher Robin feels that he isn’t close enough to his daughter and by the end of the film he has done something about it.
For Atwell, it was the relationship between her character and McGregor’s that seemed to change for the worse and needed help. The relationship between Christopher Robin and his wife Evelyn was that of “two people who loved each other, that lived in the same house, but spoke different languages. They were constantly missing each other, a hurt was being caused, not because of a lack of love. They lived very different lives.”
Both McGregor and Atwell had no trepidation about taking on their role in this well-loved franchise. For Ewan McGregor, “no one knows what Christopher Robin is like as a 47-year-old man, except me. We know Christopher Robin as a small boy.” While McGregor felt comfortable with the lack of knowledge about his character, Atwell saw her entry to the Pooh franchise as anything but difficult.
Atwell had, “the opposite of trepidation, I felt trusting because I was going to be part of a world that was known and loved. You just go in and do what was required in that world. I felt I was in very safe hands. I felt more relaxed.”
Director Marc Forster has a history of working with well-loved classic English stories. His 2004 film Finding Neverland told the tale of how playwright J.M. Barrie brought the story of Peter Pan to the stage.
From James Bond to zombies, Forster’s career has spanned multiple genres. What brought him to the Hundred-Acre Wood and Pooh was his daughter. While traveling with her she commented that Forster should really make a movie that she could watch.
When it came to Christopher Robin simplicity mattered for Forster. “The story is very simple, but that simplicity is important because that’s how Pooh is. Pooh is very simple. Life should be simple. What’s important in life is to spend time with people you love. We all don’t do that enough.”
Forster took on the challenge of Pooh and sought out legendary Disney musician Richard Sherman to contribute to the film. “If I could get one song out of Richard Sherman, I would be blessed.” After calling up Sherman, Forster sent him the script and asked if he would be willing to write a song for the movie.
Sherman called the director back a few days later. Forster was driving home from the set and put Sherman on speakerphone. With just the phone held up to his piano the iconic musician played the song he wrote for the movie. “First, I got goosebumps, then I started crying.” Sherman went on to play two more songs that he had written. Forster had to find a unique way to include the additional work.
On his leading man, Forster saw McGregor as a talent. McGregor is “comedically brilliant, he is also brilliant as a dramatic actor, but he doesn’t get to do a lot of physical comedy. Ewan has this Chaplinesque physical comedy to him.”
Fans waiting to see Christopher Robin will be rewarded for their patience. After speaking with the cast and director, I could tell this was a film made with love about the simplicity of life and remembering what is important.
Christopher Robin opens nationwide on August 3rd.