In Disney’s upcoming live-action fantasy Christopher Robin (out August 3), Ewan McGregor plays the title role of the little boy who was Winnie the Pooh’s closest friend in the beloved series of children’s stories written by A.A. Milne and illustrated by E.H. Shepard. In the movie, Christopher is now an adult with a wife (played by Hayley Atwell), kids of his own and all the personal and financial responsibilities that come with that — responsibilities that have snuffed out his imagination and sense of wonder. It’s up to a certain little bear to re-enter Christopher’s life and help him rediscover what he has lost.
While referring back to a Disney animated classic, Christopher Robin is not just a live-action retelling of a tale we’ve seen before. With the arrival of the first teaser trailer for the movie, director Marc Forster (World War Z) got on the phone with us to discuss what makes Christopher Robin a different kind of Disney movie, bringing Pooh and his friends to live-action life and why this little talking bear has been a favorite for generations.
How does this compare to the other live-action movies that Disney has been doing, like Jungle Book or Beauty and the Beast, which have taken their animated classics and turned them into live-action pieces?
Marc Forster: The difference is The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast followed those animated classics. In this case here we have a beloved bear, a beloved character, Winnie the Pooh, and a totally original concept, which obviously is very different. Christopher Robin is grown up, he’s a grown man, and he has tremendous pressure at his work, too, because the economy is 1949, post-war, he works at a luggage company’s efficiency department. The company is failing, there are a lot of economic pressures. He is overworked, and that causes a sort of rift between his family and him, because he doesn’t have time to spend time with his daughter or his wife.
Ultimately, in that pressure cooker he’s in, and that conflict between family and work, Pooh shows up, and brings it all to a head. And it’s ultimately somewhat about finding the inner child again. I think that particular story obviously hasn’t been told before in the Pooh universe (laughs), let’s put it this way. Or the pre-existing Pooh stories, which is very different to those other ones.
What intrigued you about telling a story about Christopher Robin as an adult?
Marc Forster: I was super excited because for me it was like revisiting my own childhood and I’ve been looking since Finding Neverland to find a magic realism piece again. It’s very hard to find the right one. When I heard the idea of this concept, I said, “Oh, that’s incredible!” because it’s an original concept and we build on that and that’s what made me very passionate about it.
What other Pooh characters are we going to see in the film?
Marc Forster: Oh, all of the Hundred Acres Woods characters. They’re all in it. Rabbit, Owl, Kanga, Roo, Eeyore, Tigger, Piglet – all of them.
Who was the most challenging to bring to life in a live-action format?
Marc Forster: You know, they all have their own challenges. I would say Piglet and Tigger are a little easier, because Tigger, he’s moving a lot, because obviously he has a spring in his tail, and he’s jumping around, and there’s a lot of movement, giving more action. Piglet’s very cute and little, and like, there’s obviously fear-driven nervous energy there.
But Eeyore and Pooh are a little trickier, because Pooh moves very slow, he has very simple demeanors, and you have to really — there’s a certain stillness, but you also don’t want it to be too boring, because he’s not a fast mover. He’s very Pooh-like, you know! And Eeyore is the same, he also moves pretty slowly, and he has the big muzzle in front, so when you look at his eyes and he talks, he looks downwards, so there’s all these little tricky things I have to incorporate it and work.
We created original stuffed animals and made them after a lot of research, from E.H. Shepard’s drawings to the early Disney black-and-white drawings, to arrive at what you see now as Pooh.
So they’ll all stay pretty close to a classic look?
Marc Forster: Yes.
In the teaser, it seems like Christopher almost doesn’t believe he’s seeing Pooh. I’m thinking of Hook, where the grown-up Peter Pan doesn’t remember any of the adventures he had. Is it something along those lines?
Marc Forster: No, no. He remembers the adventures very well. But he just thinks, you know, I left this bear behind when I was a child, why is he suddenly showing up here meddling in London when I’m an adult? How did that happen?
What made Ewan McGregor the right man to play this part?
Marc Forster: We made a movie before together (Stay), and I’ve just been a big fan, and we’ve stayed friends and I just thought, you know, I wanted an actor who has this sort of … a man who has also a child within him, and I could feel like he has a boyish face still as well. So I think that was important to sort of capture that, and also (to get) an actor who understands drama and comedy, and I think Ewan was the perfect match, and his performance is really special. I’m so excited for everybody to see his work in this.
Who is the movie for? Will adults and children both find something in it?
Marc Forster: Yes, absolutely. For me it’s like a four-quadrant movie, sort of a live-action Pixar kind of thing. Most of these Pixar movies I’ve seen are for grownups and children. And here as well, I think you can watch it with your kids and with your mother, grandmother, whoever. I think it’s, let’s say, for everyone.
Why do you think a character like Winnie the Pooh has endured so long in our culture and has stayed in people’s minds and keeps being rediscovered by new generations?
Marc Forster: There’s this book called The Tao of Pooh, and I really love that book, and it really dives into Milne’s philosophy and also these Pooh-isms. There’s a philosophy behind it and a timelessness behind Pooh’s sayings. They’re very simple. But at the same time, they have a lot of depth, a lot of substance and a lot of truth to them. And I think ultimately, that never went away. Yes, he’s a cute bear you want to hug, but then (Milne) buries sort in this writing so much truth that still applicable today. That’s what I really think carries the longevity along with the bear.
Did you happen to see the movie about Milne that came out last year, Goodbye Christopher Robin?
Marc Forster: I haven’t watched it yet, but I will. We were shooting during that time, so I didn’t have a chance yet to catch it.
This is a relatively brief teaser. When we see a full trailer for the movie, are you going to try and keep things like the live-action characters hidden before the film comes out?
Marc Forster: Yes, absolutely, yeah. But we will have in the next trailer — we’ll feature at least four of the characters, I can tell you that. Definitely Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger, and Pooh, maybe all of them. We’ll see, depending on where we’re at with our visual effects!