Review – Unbearably Cute (“Christopher Robin”)

Not to be confused with last year’s forgettable, Goodbye Christopher Robin, this is Disney’s version of what happens when stuffed animals come to life and try to run your pathetic life. Actually, that sounds more like a nightmare to me, but this movie has Obi-Wan Kenobi & Agent Carter to put them in their place!
 


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Told in our universe (unlike the ones where Ted, talking Muppets, or Paddington Bear are considered perfectly normal) we have the delightful stories of A.A. Milne and Winnie the Pooh. Christopher Robin (Orton O’Brien) is just a kid and plays with these living, breathing, and talking plush animals in the secret Hundred Acre Wood, a place accessible only by him through a tree doorway, kinda like Lewis Carroll’s Alice. But growing up and going to boarding school squelches all his memories of that happy place, not to mention his tour of duty in WW2. Then Christopher grows up to be a man (Ewan McGregor), marries lovely Evelyn (Hayley Atwell), and is a father to lonely 10-year-old Madeline, taking an even greater toll on him. Oh, and then there’s his soul-crushing job.

Faced with either having to fire his entire staff or come up with a last-minute miracle at struggling Winslow Luggage Co, Christopher is facing a crisis of family, work, and self. Suddenly, out of the blue (and a tree opening) pops Winnie the Pooh (v/o by Jim Cummings)! Startled, and not sure about having a conversation with a talking stuffed toy bear, he decides to quickly bring Pooh home via his old tree doorway. Once back in the Hundred Acre Wood, he meets his old toy playmates: manic-depressive Eeyore (Brad Garrett), exuberant Tigger (Jim Cummings), wise Owl (Toby Jones), nervous Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), timid Piglet (Nick Mohammad), and mother/daughter Kanga & Roo (Sophie Okonedo & Sara Sheen).

Hook, City Slickers, or Mary Poppins, Christopher then re-discovers himself with the help of his little friends and then returns to the real world. But! A crisis makes Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, and Eeyore leave the comfort and safety of their home to our world, meeting young Madeline in the process. From there it’s a carefree romp to London that, unlike the balls-to-the-wall lunacy of Paddington Bear or any of the Muppet movies, is a rather jolly holiday full of shenanigans that is quite humorous (as the British would say). The plush toys even look real enough to BE real, as Disney takes a page from McFarlane’s Ted.

Written like a Merchant Ivory film by Alex Ross Perry (Nostalgia) and Allison Schroeder (Hidden Figures), and shooting it like an Indie film, instead of one of those BIG Hollywood blockbusters by Marc Forster (World War Z), was a stroke of genius. Retaining all the charm, wit, and cleverness of the children’s book, it probably would have lost all of it had it been filmed as a CGI animated movie, or an outlandish British comedy, like the recent Peter Rabbit. Thankfully, you get a gentle, character-driven story that does NOT rely on fart or butt jokes. The formulaic plot, while not original, still manages to hit on-point for this subject matter and works beautifully.     

Occasionally teetering on the edge of being a little too silly, pulls at the heart-strings, as we get all of Winnie’s Yoda-like Pooh-isms, along with Eeyore’s depressing, yet comical tirades, and Tigger’s wild antics (and his infamous song). McGregor is outstanding as a man grasping on to the last vestiges of wanting to be a good man and father, but being defeated in both. Atwell is his long-suffering wife, and Bronte (making her theatrical debut) is dazzling as the expressionless little girl who just wants to loved by her father. Disney has made a family movie without going crazy and loading it up with unnecessary big-budget sets, explosions, and over-the-top razzle-dazzle. This is simple, pure, honest, and a throw-back to simpler times. Bravo!

 
 
Fat Albert (2004)

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Before Bill Cosby did his nefarious deeds, he created a likeable Saturday morning cartoon series called Fat Albert & the Cosby Kids where he hosted the show, bringing life-lessons to the kiddies via goofy animation. Too bad none of the stories where about tainting drinks given to girls… but I digress.
 
In this movie, however, it’s the story of Doris Robertson (Kyla Pratt), a depressed teenager who’s grieving the death of her grandfather and resisting her foster sister Lauri’s (Dania Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids is on. Magically, her tear opens up a portal to the cartoon world, and ZAP! Cartoon Fat Albert (Kenan Thompson) jumps out of the TV and becomes human, along with his gang, Rudy, Dumb Donald, Mushmouth, Bill, Bucky, and Old Weird Harold. 
 
Naturally, the cartoons-now-humans are amazed by all the new technology as they follow Doris to school. Hijinks ensue with Albert becoming infatuated with Lauri, and is challenged to a track race by school bully, Reggie (Omarion). There’s trouble at a party, Harold (Aaron Frazier) winning a basketball game, non-speaking Mushmouth (Jermaine Williams),  is taught how to speak by a little girl, Dumb Donald (Marques Houston) goes to the library and learn show to read, etc. You get the picture. 
 
Seeking help on how to get back home to the cartoon world, Fat Albert meets his creator, Bill Cosby. Cosby warns Fat Albert he must return to the cartoon world, or he will turn into celluloid dust. Who knew? Albert would rather stay, having fallen in love, but Reggie, who knows the truth about the “cartoon” gang, attempts to threaten Albert. He says goodbye to Doris and Lauri and jumps back into the TV. In a schmaltzy ending, the Cosby cartoon characters talk about inspiration and helping each other. You can insert your own joke here.
 
Written by Charles Knipps (ironically, the Law & Order TV series) and Cosby, this meant-for-kids film is totally harmless and, given the subject matter, had at least one thing going for it, the cast. Although the plot was mediocre at best and hit all the marks for being lackadaisical in plotting & writing, it did possess a warmth and charm that was undeniable. Say what you will about the man now, but when Cosby wrote his TV cartoon series and this movie, he was serious about layering his efforts with dollops of both comedy and hidden messages about life. Too bad he never took his own advice, huh?
 

Director Joel Zwick was no stranger to directing kids, as he spent decades directing family TV sitcoms like Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper, Full House, and Family Matters, so it shows on the screen with some terrific talent. The cartoon-come-to-life kids are impressive, especially Thompson, who looks like he’s having the time of his life portraying Fat Albert. The rest are all sensational, given the silly dialogue and plot, and inhabit their characters as if they really were from a TV show. Pretty cool.

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