Christopher Robin – Reinventing classic characters and telling a new story

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“We could all use a little bit of Pooh’s heart and wisdom right now.”

In the heartwarming live action adventure Disney’s Christopher Robin, the young boy who embarked on countless adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood with his band of spirited and lovable stuffed animals, has grown up and lost his way. Now it is up to his childhood friends to venture into our world and help Christopher Robin remember the loving and playful boy who is still inside.

The film is directed by Marc Forster (Finding Neverland) from a screenplay by Alex Ross Perry (Golden Exits) and Allison Schroeder (Hidden Figures) and a story by Perry based on characters created by A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard.

Disney has a history with the A.A. Milne characters dating back to 1966 when the studio released the animated short “Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree” featuring the character Christopher Robin, which was followed by the shorts “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day” and “Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, Too,” as well as several full-length features and numerous direct-to-DVD titles.

The Genesis of “Christopher Robin”

The characters Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh first appeared in a collection of verses written by English playwright turned author A.A. Milne entitled “When We Were Very Young” in 1924, but it was the publication of “Winnie-the-Pooh” in 1926 that truly resonated with readers around the world. The book of short stories about the imaginary adventures of the carefree boy, his honey-loving bear and the rest of his animal friends from the Hundred Acre Wood, accompanied by E.H. Shepard’s timeless illustrations, is considered one of the most popular children’s books of all time.

ROBIN3Additional stories by Milne featuring the beloved characters followed with the publication of “The House at Pooh Corner” in 1928 and were equally as popular. Since then, these stories have been embraced by readers of all ages, and the affection for the characters has continued to grow, reaching across all mediums to endure from generation to generation.

Milne’s stories advocate the values of a healthy imagination and represent a time in our lives when we have to say goodbye to childhood…goodbye to unlimited free time…goodbye to a mother’s protection. In fact, “The House at Pooh Corner” ends with Christopher Robin telling Pooh he’s going away to boarding school, his way of saying life can no longer be about frivolous pursuits and that it’s time for him to grow up and become more serious.

It was this bittersweet moment in Milne’s book that served as the inspiration for an entirely new take on these classic characters set years after the two friends part.

The idea of approaching the story from this perspective dates back 15 years to when producer Brigham Taylor, then a production executive at Disney, pitched this idea to the studio.

Though the timing wasn’t right as there were other Winnie the Pooh projects in the works, Taylor and his colleagues knew there was a special kind of promise to the idea of meeting a familiar and beloved character in a whole new world.

Years later, Taylor transitioned into a producing role for the studio, taking on films such as “The Jungle Book” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.”

During a meeting with longtime executive Kristin Burr, she encouraged him to dust off the concept and the two began developing the idea together. “The studio was really supportive of taking classic characters and finding ways to reinvent them and tell new stories, so it was sort of a revival of an old idea that we had,” says Taylor.

The simplicity of Milne’s characters appeals to children, and their imperfections—timidity, bravado, a false sense of superiority—are easily recognizable to adults. They show warmth, love, kindness and connectivity with one another, especially Pooh, and the issues are ones we can all relate to: the responsibilities of adulthood that pull us away from the carefree days of our youth and how we go about recapturing what we’ve left behind.

Winnie the Pooh, who often makes insightful comments such as People say nothing is impossible but I do nothing every day, is the conduit by which Christopher Robin is able to pull himself back and remember the things in life that are valuable to him…things that can still be a part of his life as an adult. “Pooh is the perfect vehicle because he literally represents—through his image, his attitude and his personality—the concept of just hanging out and doing things that you love with people that you love and not being distracted by less important things,” says Taylor.

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

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

Tom_McCarthy_(cropped)Tom McCarthy (Screenwriter) is best known for the film Spotlight, for which he received an Academy Award for best original screenplay and was nominated for best director. In 2009, McCarthy shared story credit with Pete Docter and Bob Peterson on the hit animated feature Up, for which he received an Oscar® nomination for best original screenplay. He also served as a director and executive producer for the Netflix television series 13 Reasons Why.

McCarthy was known primarily as a busy working actor until he burst onto the filmmaking scene with his critically acclaimed writing and directing feature film debut, The Station Agent (2003), followed by the equally acclaimed The Visitor (2007).

In 2011, McCarthy wrote and directed Win Win, and wrote and directed The Cobbler (2014), and is currently at work on “Timmy Failure” for Disney.

allisonAllison Schroeder’s (Screenwriter) most recent project, Hidden Figures,  garnered her an Academy Award nomination for adapted screenplay and, a Critics’ Choice Award nomination for adapted screenplay, and the film was on the 2016 National Board of Review’s “Top Films” list.

Up next for Schroeder is the release of “Disruptors,” a feature film that focuses on Susan Fowler, the Uber engineer whose blog post about sexual harassment within the juggernaut exposed a toxic culture of sexism and sexual harassment that eventually led to the downfall of CEO Travis Kalanick.

Schroeder attended Stanford University, where she graduated with a degree in economics, with much coursework in math and statistics. She interned for the Import/Export Bank of America in Washington, D.C., for a summer, working on loans for developing nations. She also had a second major in film and visual narrative, which covered writing, theater, photography and film studies.

While at Stanford, she studied abroad at Oxford University, where she wrote, directed, choreographed and produced her first musical. She’s gone on to write many musicals, including “Side Effects” for ATV/DreamWorks Animation, which garnered over two million YouTube hits in the first week. She currently has a musical pilot in development at Universal Cable with Scooter Braun and Good Fear Film.

After graduating from Stanford, she worked as a financial analyst in San Francisco for Arthur Andersen during the Enron crisis. She then moved over to KPMG as a forensic analyst, finding crime amid the numbers and paper trails. After two years, she headed to the University of Southern California for her MFA in film production, where she studied directing and writing. During this time, she often flew to New York City to work Fashion Week and various other events, including the Victoria Secret’s Fashion Show, so she has an in-depth knowledge of the fashion world as well.

After graduation from USC, Schroeder worked as a writer’s production assistant on “Smallville” before becoming a staff writer on “90210.” She went on to sell a pilot to MTV and write “Mean Girls 2.” After working in the teen genre for a few years, she transitioned to action and drama with her spec sale of “Agatha” to Paramount. She continues to work in a variety of genres and mediums.

She’s currently the co-chair of the Committee of Women Writers at the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and a member of the WGA inclusion and equity group helmed by Glen Mazzara and Shonda Rhimes. She recently spoke at the Women’s Summit at the White House and works closely with Google and the Science Exchange on their initiatives. She has a deep love for cats, Southern cooking, skeet shooting, zip-lining, improv, and chai cupcakes. She also secretly writes romance novels under a pseudonym.

greg brookerGreg Brooker (Story by) wrote the screenplay for Stuart Little, which was released by in 1999. Additional writing credits include the short films A.W.O.L., Nosferatu L.A. ’02, Birthday and I’m on Fire.

Current projects in development include Agent: Century 21 and Home with Kids, Crazy Vacation.

 

Mark Steven JohnsonMark Steven Johnson (Story by) wrote the hit comedies Grumpy Old Men, and its successful sequel, Grumpier Old Men, and went on to write Jack Frost.

He made his directorial debut with the critically-acclaimed Simon Birch for Walt Disney Studios. Two successful Marvel Comics adaptations followed, with Johnson writing and directing Daredevil, and Ghost Rider.  He produced and directed the romantic comedy When in Rome, and  directed Killing Season, starring Robert De Niro.  Johnson re-teamed with Robert De Niro for the comedy Grudge Match, co-starring Sylvester Stallone. He is currently in post-production on the film Finding Steve McQueen starring Forest Whitaker and Travis Fimmel, which he both directed and produced for AMBI Films.

 

Once a working script was in place, Taylor and Burr approached Marc Forster and were thrilled when he came aboard to helm.

The acclaimed director known for his eclectic range of films—including Finding Neverland, Quantum of Solace and The Kite Runner—grew up loving Disney live-action films and was immediately drawn to the story.

It had a sense of magic realism, and he believed it had the potential to become an artistic, emotional, funny and timeless film.

“When you are able to make people laugh and cry in the same movie and you are able to tell the story with integrity and ground it in reality and have the magic realism on top of it, it lifts your spirits and connects you with the people you love,” says Forster.

And this is a story Forster believes has never been more relevant. “I think it’s something we desperately need in the world,” he says. “We could all use a little bit of Pooh’s heart and wisdom right now.”

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Forster and Taylor began prepping to shoot in London as Burr transitioned into her own production shingle on the lot, making the transition from executive to producer. At the same time, they turned their attention to casting both the human and animal characters.

Finding someone to personify an adult Christopher Robin posed a unique challenge for the filmmakers. The boy forever immortalized in E.H. Shepard’s iconic illustration sitting with his best friend on their thinking log has grown into a loving husband and father and a hard-working employee at Winslow Luggage, but the burdens that come with adulthood have caused him to forget the good times of his youth and he has lost sight of the person he once was.

“Christopher Robin feels a lot of responsibility and a lot of guilt, which weighs heavily on him,” says Burr. “He doesn’t smile anymore, he doesn’t laugh anymore and he doesn’t act silly anymore, and by attempting to support his family and secure their livelihoods he is actually neglecting them.”

Forster adds, “Christopher Robin tries to relate to his wife Evelyn and his daughter Madeline, but he’s not able to connect to himself, and until he develops that kind of personal awareness, he isn’t able to emotionally connect with his family.”

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“There were very few actors who could give us that sense of weariness that sets in as adults with responsibilities weighing you down, but also let you see that boyish nature that lies underneath,” says Taylor. “Ewan McGregor is able to take you on that journey visually.”

The star of “Moulin Rouge!,” “Trainspotting” and “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace,” who recently appeared in Disney’s live-action “Beauty and the Beast” and the acclaimed FX series “Fargo,” immediately related to the character of Christopher Robin. He was also pleased to see that Pooh and the other creatures were such an integral part of the story.

“I was quite charmed by the script and loved that they made Christopher Robin a man my age and that Winnie the Pooh comes back to him at a difficult time in his life,” says McGregor. “I found that really moving. Christopher Robin is the father of a daughter who he’s not very close to, and he recognizes that and would like to be closer to her. And certainly, you get the feeling that she would like to be closer with her dad as well, and there’s something about this coming together of a father and his daughter that really appealed to me as a father of girls.”

He continues, “I’ve always loved the films of Jimmy Stewart, and I could imagine Jimmy Stewart playing this role back in the day. Reading the script made me feel like this might be my Jimmy Stewart sort of role.”

As the efficiency manager of a luggage company in the years following the war, when most people can’t afford to go on holiday, much less purchase luggage for the trip, the pressure to keep the company afloat and protect everyone’s’ jobs rests on his shoulders. “Christopher Robin works very hard and probably works too much, and his relationship with his family is strained as a result,” say McGregor.

“Ewan and I worked together before [in the 2005 thriller “Stay”], and I knew he was perfect as Christopher Robin,” says director Marc Forster. “He has this sense of manliness about him but an incredible playfulness as well, which was really crucial for this character.”

CHRISTOPHER ROBIN

 

Jim Cummings provides the familiar and comforting voice of Winnie the Pooh, Christopher Robin’s devoted best friend. A cuddly, slightly-worn teddy bear full of optimism, whose tummy is always rumbly, he often delivers simple thoughts on life that turn out to be surprisingly profound. Cummings has voiced the character for the past 30 years. Cummings also provides the voice of Tigger, a character he has voiced in numerous titles over the years. Tigger is the fearless, outgoing, energetic and incredibly self-assured orange and black-striped tiger who often leaps before he looks.

Brad Garrett of Everybody Loves Raymond fame has voiced characters in a number of Disney animated titles, including “Finding Dory” and “Ratatouille.” In “Christopher Robin,” he is the voice of Eeyore, the old gray donkey with a melancholy—but endearing—disposition and a penchant for sarcasm. Eeyore tends to wallow in misery and proceeds through life with very low expectations, but he is loved by Christopher Robin and his friends.

British actor Nick Mohammed (“The Martian,” “Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie”) is the voice of Pooh’s sidekick Piglet, a petite, angst-ridden pig who is shy, soft-spoken and easily frightened. The kind-hearted female kangaroo, Kanga, is voiced by Sophie Okonedo (“The Secret Life of Bees,” “Hotel Rwanda”). Kanga is mother to Roo and a warm and maternal figure to Christopher Robin and all the animals.

Toby Jones (“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”) is the voice of Owl, who, while undoubtedly wise, is a stickler for rules and order and has a tendency to pontificate and embellish his true intellectual abilities. Peter Capaldi (“Doctor Who”) provides the voice of Rabbit, who often butts heads with Owl. He is the self-appointed leader of the animals in the Hundred Acre Wood, but often comes across as pompous and overbearing.

Disney legend Richard M. Sherman provides three new songs for the film. Two songs appear in the end credits and one, “Goodbye, Farewell,” which is performed by the animals from the Hundred Acre Wood, can be heard in the opening scene. “Busy Doing Nothing” and “Christopher Robin” are both performed by Richard Sherman himself.

“Winnie the Pooh became a dear friend of mine when Walt gave us the assignment to write songs for the first Winnie the Pooh short film,” says Sherman, “and here, so many years later, it is very special to be back in the Hundred Acre Wood again.”

Sherman continues, “There’s something sentimental and sweet and nostalgic about Pooh. He’s like your childhood buddy, who we sometimes forget about when we get older, but when he finds out that Christopher Robin is in a bit of trouble, he comes back to remind him what it’s like to have an imagination and to have wonderful times together doing nothing.”

“I think Pooh will be around for the next 200 years because he is so special and so dear,” he says. “There will always be people rediscovering Winnie the Pooh or finding about him for the first time.”