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Review: “Christopher Robin” Brings Happiness and Heavy-handedness

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There’s something so enduring about the characters of Winnie the Pooh that even the most simplistic of their stories have a certain intelligent charm to tales of talking stuffed animals. Disney’s Christopher Robin is a perfect example of how they can save a film too safe, sappy, and overbearing with its message about growing up without losing your sense of play. There’s thankfully no darkness in its depiction, despite the dreary streets of London and the more muted tones of Hundred Acre Wood. At its core, it’s same old Pooh antics that have made this fluffy collective the most wholesome, smart and funny of the Disney ensembles.

Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) and his longtime friend Winnie the Pooh in Disney’s CHRISTOPHER ROBIN.

The film centers on a question that always lingered in Christopher Robin’s conversations with Pooh but never adequately addressed: What will happen when Christopher grows up? Not surprisingly, he leaves behind the woods for boarding school, the war, a job, and to raise a family. But he’s not the same Christopher (Ewan McGregor), more of a worrying worker that puts business ahead of family. He arrives home and can’t even smile at his wife. His daughter wants him to read her a bedtime story, and he selects text on the industrial revolution. He’s lost his playful ways that once helped his animal friends.

Into his world comes Pooh, the silly old bear willing to venture out of his fantastical woods and into the stuffy world of post-war England. This could be a dangerous development, as we’ve seen from previous experiences of fantasy cartoon characters coming to life in fish-out-of-water tales, the sourest being The Smurfs that should’ve stayed in their land of mushrooms and magic. Thankfully, the familiar characters, despite looking a little odd as more realistic computer-generated depictions, haven’t lost their touch. Pooh is still a dopey questioner of the world, Piglet is still a fearful creature, Rabbit is still a worrying wart, Owl is always a wise sage, Eeyore is still a sad sack, and Roo still a cute little kangaroo. Oh, and of course Tigger still bounces. Why wouldn’t he? It’s a wonderful thing, bouncing.

Madeline Robin (Bronte Carmichael) and her father Christopher’s longtime friends Tigger, Piglet and Winnie the Pooh go on an adventure in Disney’s CHRISTOPHER ROBIN.

It helps that the story is simplified to keep Pooh’s adventure free of convolution and modern world set pieces, despite some silly accidents of Pooh breaking Christopher’s house and Tigger causing a ruckus in traffic for little reason with forced hilarity. After much denial from Christopher and rushing of Pooh back to his home before more Englishmen are freaked out by a talking teddy bear, the film finally starts to take off with its whimsy. Watching Ewan McGregor get back into the swing of things and embrace Pooh’s impeccable logic of play and doing nothing brings back the familiar and powerful charm the characters were known for.

It’s just unfortunate that the characters find themselves trapped in a live-action film with morals so painfully spelled with overblown scenes of sentimentality that themes of favoring family and imagination feel artificial. Once more, Pooh and company come to the rescue with their well-defined comedy, whereas the human characters spell everything out within big, bold letters that are sure to give a concussion of good intentions. While I fully expected Christopher Robin to realize that life is more than business meetings and studying, I wasn’t ready for him to point these lessons out like the review of an after-school special, making sure the message is loud and clear.

Piglet, Pooh, Rabbit, Roo, Kanga, Tigger and Eeyore in Disney’s live-action adventure CHRISTOPHER ROBIN.

Christopher Robin has the tricky balance of fantasy and reality where honey-seeking and Heffalump-hunting trump a standard plot of Christopher trying to save a business and his family. It seems like the type of film Disney would have made in the late-1990s and thankfully not the mid-2000s of trying to fathom how Pooh would handle driving a car or eating honey out of the head of a plastic bear container. Whenever the characters are on screen getting into their usual squabbles and discoveries laced with witty commentary on life, I smirked and even laughed, perhaps harder as I wanted to push the predictable plot aside, which must insert scenes of Christopher at war and telling off his bosses in an almost cartoonish manner.

Much like Christopher Robin’s arc, I wish the film would learn its lesson about embracing woodland adventures sooner than its brief dip into a more somber story, teetering on the edge of becoming as awkward as Hook. The film, if nothing else, is a testament to how you can’t help but love Pooh. Well, until he’s forced into a movie where he uses an MP3 player and does a suggestive dance with a honey pot on his head. Let’s hope we never reach that point where I find myself looking at this franchise with a sigh and an “oh, bother.”


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“Bumblebee” Swaps Insulting Action For Lighter Adventure

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As the first spin-off of Michael Bay’s Transformers saga, BumbleBee is a huge shift from the usual gears. It’s as though Travis Knight took a good, hard look at the clunky and sloppy nature of the series and decided to give it an overhaul. Gone are the mounting and confusing story arcs that seemed to needlessly double with each sequel. The cynical nature has been removed, replacing the human and robot heroes with more quirky and heartfelt ones, albeit within the cartoonish realm of a 1980s adventure fit for kids. All of these changes don’t exactly make the film a stellar Transformers movie but it at least earns the title of being the best of the lot for the rather low bar it had to cross.

It helps that the Transformers lore is kept to a simpler story. As a prequel, we learn how BumbleBee was the first of the heroic Autobots to land on Earth after losing the battle for Cybertron against the evil Decepticons. His mission is to ensure that Earth is safe and free of Decepticon interference until the other Autobots arrive. But during a scuffle with one following evil robot, BumbleBee has his memory wiped and his voice taken, just in case you were wondering why the transforming robot only speaks through the radio.

Helping him to communicate is Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), a teenage mechanic prodigy with a life in need of a tune-up. And unlike previous Transformers human tagalongs, she deserves it. She’s a smart kid, great with a wrench, has good taste in music, and is naturally depressed by her dad passing. Charlie feels that nobody can understand her so, naturally, the confused BumbleBee takes a liking to her easily as she teaches him about human life and music, something that the robot from another planet has opinions about. Who knew that Cybertronians have an instant disliking for Rick Astley?

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Transformers movie without some evil Decepticons trying to take over the planet. Similar to everything else in the film, this plot has been pruned down to be less messy as only two Decepticons of Shatter (Angela Bassett) and Dropkick (Justin Theroux) come to Earth for the invasion. Their mission is less convoluted; kill BumbleBee and kill all the humans. And you better believe they kill the gullible American government stooges that place their trust in these robots that pretend to be working with them. Don’t worry, parents; the robots will only zap the humans into liquid goo as opposed to bloody slop, for whatever that tweak may be worth.

Much of the junk has been scraped off the Bay-formers saga to be a more thoughtful and sympathetic film but some of the lameness remains. I don’t know why the film bothered to mention that the story takes place in 1987; the setting goes out of its way to prove this point, from ALF on the television to a VHS copy of The Breakfast Club to posters of The Thing on room walls. John Cena plays a cocky military agent who never quite crosses over into Wahlberg craziness with his meatheaded nature but still occupies the tired trope of the series with the military blindly trusting robots from space. Charlie has a neighborhood friend Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) who wants to be her boyfriend but he thinks he’s too nerdy to ever have a girlfriend. I find it hard to believe a teenager with a rather trimmed body, which he does show off while shirtless, could have that much trouble finding a girl in a community of divers and beach lovers. But perhaps it’s a subversion of such a person, as the film blatantly tries to toss out the suggestion that Charlie and Memo will kiss by the end, as if nudging the audience to say, “See? We’re not THAT predictable.”

BumbleBee is Diet Transformers; all the robot action and adventure, none of the Michael Bay insanity, but loaded with artificial sweeteners. While I’d like to applaud the film for trying to take a sweeter and gentler route to its tale of giant robots that turn people into slime, it doesn’t feel like enough to carry the film past being a passive special effects adventure for the kids. Still, that may be the best part of the film with how it finally feels better targeted at its key demographic of kids, even inspiring for little girls that love the Transformers brand. Worth noting are the simplified designs of the robots that look more like the original cartoon than junkyard explosions. But if the spin-offs want to play more in the field of E.T. and The Iron Giant, they’ve got to tune up the heart to make me care more about a mute robot who can transform into a car. I was almost there but I need more character out of him than his innocent means of pranks and exploring a house he’s too big for. For a Transformers film, those scenes are cute moments. For stories of a kid and their alien pal, it’s par for the course.


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“Aquaman” Washes Out Christmas, “Bumblebee” and “Poppins” Close Behind

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Christmas weekend was a savage one. All manner of genre films came out to play, eager to be the biggest blockbuster of holidays. But there could only be one winner and it was the king of the oceans. Aquaman, the Jason Momoa starring superhero epic based on the DC Comics character, arrived at #1 for the weekend with a domestic gross of $67 million. Though it has a ways to go as such an epic to make its money back, the film is off to an enthusiastic start.

Following closely behind Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns, the sequel to the Disney musical classic now starring Emily Blunt, earning a weekend debut of $23.5 million. Despite opening early on Wednesday, the film still only made about $32 million which isn’t looking especially strong for Disney during the holidays. This is especially concerning given that the film is a close call for the #2 slot as Bumblebee, the Transformers spin-off of the titular heroic transforming robot, came up with a $21 million gross. That being said, Bumblebee’s opening is concerning given the big opening grosses of the previous Transformers film that were usually massive.

But that’s nothing compared to the low debuts of the films that were not intended as genre blockbusters. Second Act, a romantic comedy starring Jennifer Lopez, would debut at #7 with a domestic gross of $6.4 million. Even further down the list is Welcome to Marwen, the new Robert Zemeckis directed drama starring Steve Carell, came in at #9 with a box office of $2.3 million. Brutal.

View the full top 10 box office results below:
Aquaman ($67,400,000)
Mary Poppins Returns ($23,523,121)
Bumblebee ($21,610,000)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ($16,635,000)
The Mule ($9,727,000)
Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch ($8,548,370)
Second Act ($6,480,000)
Ralph Breaks the Internet ($4,702,425)
Welcome to Marwen ($2,366,560)
Mary Queen of Scots ($2,277,820)

Next weekend may be a bit of quiet one as we shall see how the films released on Christmas Day will fair. Holmes and Watson, the new Sherlock Holmes comedy starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, opens to 2,700 theaters. Vice, Adam McKay’s new biopic dramedy about Dick Cheney with Christian Bale playing the character, is opening to 2,300 theaters. Stan & Ollie, a biopic on Laurel & Hardy starring Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly, will be in a limited number of theaters on December 28th.


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First Box Office Weekend of 2019 Finds “Aquaman” King (Again)

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It’s a new year and so we enter into the chilly month of January, usually reserved for Oscar nominations to strut their stuff and mediocre-to-decent films to swoop in and make a mint. Similar to last year, the first big new film a lukewarm horror picture. Escape Room, the horror film based on the party activity craze of escape rooms, debuted at #2 with a decent January take of $18 million. Not a terrible opening at all for such a horror film but most of its bigger gross was eaten up by Aquaman, the DC superhero epic that continues to make waves. Even though the film took a 41% dip from last weekend, the movie has currently $259 domestic with a worldwide gross total of $940 million. It’s a big success for DC Comics trying to catch up with Marvel Comics at the box office and Aquaman is still looking good coming into a slow January.

With Escape Room being the only major release, there are no big surprises for the shifting of placement. Mary Poppins Returns holds firm as a family film for winter, the domestic total now sitting at $138 million. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, having recently won the Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature, is still just below with a domestic gross of $133 million. Still struggling to crack $100 million is Bumblebee, the Transformers spin-off. Despite being the highest-rated Transformers movie by miles, the film has only made $97 million after three weekends.

Miles Morales in Sony Pictures Animation’s SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE.

The longest holdout in the top 10 box office is Ralph Breaks The Internet, Disney’s cyberspace adventure sequel. Released during Thanksgiving, the Disney animated film has to date made $187 million domestic after seven weekends. Just below it, however, is a film that has been in theaters for two weekends but has already seen a massive drop, Holmes and Watson, making headlines for being one of the worst films of the year with a descending box office.

View the full top 10 box office for the weekend below:

Aquaman ($30,700,000)
Escape Room ($18,000,000)
Mary Poppins Returns ($15,773,000)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ($13,010,000)
Bumblebee ($12,775,000)
The Mule ($9,040,000)
Vice ($5,803,490)
Second Act ($4,910,000)
Ralph Breaks the Internet ($4,685,000)
Holmes and Watson ($3,400,000)

Next weekend will feature some bigger competition of dogs, clones, and soft human drama. A Dog’s Way Home, a spiritual sequel to A Dog’s Purpose, will debut in 3,000 theaters. Replicas, a sci-fi thriller starring Keanu Reeves, will hit 2,500 theaters. The Upside, a dramedy where Bryan Cranston plays a paraplegic and Kevin Hart is an inept assistant, will premiere to 3,000 theaters. The battle is ultimately between A Dog’s Way Home and The Upside but I’m willing to bet a PG dog movie will take the top spot or about as high a spot it can muster with Aquaman still in play.


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