We wrote a few weeks ago about the glut of sequels, prequels, spinoffs, and reboots at the movies and on TV these days, but this weekend’s film line-up reminded us of another category: the live-action adaptation of an animation classic. This is a storied tradition, reaching at least as far back as 1993’s Super Mario Bros. In the last few years, Disney’s gotten in on the action. Their latest, Christopher Robin, opened this weekend.
Christopher Robin, though, isn’t like the live-action adaptations like Beauty and the Beast that Disney’s been churning out. (And yes, they’re churning: The Lion King, Dumbo, and others are in the works.) This is more like Hook meets… all those other adaptations, catching up with the now-grown hero of a beloved children’s book, right when he needs to rediscover the joy and wonder that he’s lost.
Or maybe Christopher Robin isn’t so simple. At The Atlantic, David Simms calls it “a film that is perhaps too elegiac and gloomy for children, but also too straightforwardly fanciful for their parents,” but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s this willingness to sit between categories, to risk being uncomfortable or weird, that makes a seemingly saccharine movie into something more.
The word “generic” comes from “genre,” after all, from a meaning that’s not about blandness but about fitting in a genre’s conventions: a space opera has starships and interplanetary travel, a romance has a love story with a happy ending, a literary novel has smart people moping around trying to express their many feelings. Sure, you can make fun of any genre for its explicit or implicit rules, but genre stories are also hugely satisfying. You go to a Mission Impossible movie expecting epic chases, but that doesn’t make them any less thrilling when they occur.
Sometimes, though, you want the weirder stories that don’t fit comfortably into any genre box. Or maybe it’s not even that Christopher Robin is all that weird, but it feels weird because it exists between genres. Simms compares Christopher Robin to the movies of Terrance Malick; Stephanie Zacharek at Time writes, “The advertising campaign makes it look like a corn-syrup-sweet—as opposed to hunny-sweet—thing you might prefer to steer clear of. But the picture has a charming, low-key vibe that is, here and there, brushed with just a trace of adult melancholy. It’s good for kids, but maybe even better for adults who could use a little calming something.” So many kids’ movies are like two movies in one: a cartoon with a whole separate track of jokes and references to keep parents entertained. Christopher Robin is utterly itself, a sweet, melancholy movie that’s comfortable being its uncategorizable self.
Just as weird as seeing your childhood toy/imaginary best friend come to find you after decades apart—exactly the kind of soothing, beautiful weird that reminds you about all the stories in the spaces between the stories we know how to tell.