The first teaser trailer for Disney’s Christopher Robin (watch it above) shows Winnie the Pooh making an unexpected appearance in the real world — but make no mistake, the film will also take audiences back to the place where Pooh’s adventures began. “How can we tell the story of Pooh and not have them go to the Hundred Acre Wood?” director Marc Forster asks Yahoo Entertainment, aghast at the suggestion. “How could we do that? No, Christopher Robin is definitely going to the Hundred Acre Wood! And they’re also coming to London.”
Specifically, Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, and the rest of author A.A. Milne’s animal creations are coming to London in 1949, where a grown-up Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) is facing a postwar midlife crisis. Forced to work long hours at a foundering luggage company, he’s become distant from his wife (Hayley Atwell), his daughter (Bronte Carmichael), and the sense of wonder and possibility that he possessed as a child. Enter the willy, nilly, silly old bear (voiced by longtime Winnie the Pooh performer Jim Cummings).
“When Pooh shows up, that ultimately brings Christopher Robin back to Hundred Acre Wood, back into his journey to find himself, and to be able to find what it means to play again,” says the German-born director. “And Pooh brings him back, ultimately, with the people he loves most, his family. It’s a very simple story, but like Pooh himself — there’s a simplicity to those characters, but at the same time there’s a profound depth. I think the mixture between the simplicity and the profound depth is something really magical. I was trying to capture that. And when you see the movie, I hope you feel I was able to do that.”
Though Forster’s most recent films are decidedly un-Disneylike (Machine Gun Preacher, World War Z, the thriller All I See is You), the director has long been searching for a project in the spirit of his beloved 2004 film Finding Neverland, about the family who inspired Peter Pan. “I love magic realism films, but it’s very hard for me to find the right angle, to fit everything I wanted to do,” Forster says. “Because for magic realism, you need a lot of magic! And it also depends on the characters. And when I heard the concept of [Christopher Robin], I thought, ‘This is exactly the story I want to tell.’”
A lifelong Winnie the Pooh fan, Forster worked hard to make sure the bear-of-very-little-brain would get the movie he deserved. The director and the screenwriters spent six to eight months before shooting began just working out the story (which is entirely fictional, although Milne based Christopher Robin on his son). “Because it’s an origin story, we went back to the original writing and all the Pooh-isms to really create that character from its origins and bring him to life,” Forster says.
He also took a hands-on role in the new, realistic character designs. For the real-world Pooh and friends, the filmmaker and his team took inspiration from both the original E.H. Shepard illustrations from the 1920s and the concept art for the Disney Animation films (the first of which was the 1966 short Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree). After they created a model, Forster individually selected the textures, colors, and materials that the animators would use to make the living toys.
“I had in my office 40 different colors of fur, basically, and I looked at them in different lights — because the light can change the fur; it can go from brown to yellow very quickly,” Forster explains. “Then we had to hand-knit his sweater, and which kind of wool are we taking for the red and what kind of red? I had like, 20 samples of that. And then Tigger came, and Eeyore, and Piglet. So it was quite a process, I must say.”
The most important thing, Forster says, was conveying the idea that Pooh and Piglet were “not stuffed animals you just bought new from a shelf. There was a little wear and tear. Because Christopher Robin played with those stuffed animals, and he was holding and hugging them.”
That same affection that Christopher Robin had for Winnie the Pooh comes through when Forster talks about making his Disney film. “What better job can you have,” he asks, “than go to work and revisit your childhood and smile?”
Christopher Robin opens in theaters on Aug. 3.
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