One of the key elements of Disney’s reinvention as a movie studio identified by Ben Fritz in The Big Picture is the concerted effort to maximize the value of its existing IP. That has lead to live-action remakes of animated classics “from the Disney Vault” such as The Jungle Book, Cinderella, Beauty & The Beast and more.
Not everything has received a straight-up remake, though, and in that category falls this week’s new release Christopher Robin. The movie takes a Hook-like approach and catches up with the title character (Ewan McGregor) when he’s a full-grown family man working in mid-20th century London, far from the Hundred Acre Wood. His life is upended when Pooh, Eeyore, Tigger and the rest of the gang show up to help save him from a problem he didn’t know he had.
“Sooner or later your past catches up with you” we’re told on the first teaser poster, which shows Pooh leaning against someone’s briefcase, a stylish but conservative hat obscuring the bear’s head. Those elements combine to at least imply that it’s an adult Pooh will be dealing with, not a child, and maybe a stuffy one at that.
The second one-sheet dispensed with the teasing and showed McGregor as the grown Christopher looking busy and somewhat annoyed – or at least perplexed and slightly embarrassed – by the presence of Pooh, Tigger and the rest of the stuffed gang walking cheerfully around him. “Cheerfully” except for Eeyore, of course, who just wants to sit and be a little glum. Another recreates a scene shown in the second trailer of Pooh and the rest of the gang hanging out on the beach, reminding us to “Never underestimate the value of doing nothing,” which is good advice.
A series of character posters put Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and Eeyore against solid, light-colored backgrounds.
The teaser trailer starts on a dank, grey London street as Christopher Robin is being told by his boss that he has to work over the weekend, breaking a promise to take his wife and daughter away for a trip. Even worse, he has to help make significant cuts to the workforce of the company. After seeing his family off he goes to a nearby park to collect his thoughts. It’s there he encounters an old friend.
It’s a sweet, gentle trailer that gives off a very strong Hook vibe. There’s an emphasis in the title cards on reminding the audience of other recent Disney live-action remakes including Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast as the studio hopes to position this as the latest in a series of films you’re sure to love.
The first official trailer, which debuted on “Ellen,” shows lots more of Pooh and the 100 Acre Wood gang and how Pooh’s reappearance in his life throws Christopher Robin for a loop. Helping the bear find the rest of his friends gives Robin a purpose much more enjoyable than anything else but he has to get back to his family. Pooh and the others then decide it’s up to them to save Robin from the trappings of his life and so set out to introduce a bit of innocent chaos to the grown up’s life.
This one is just as sweet and light as the first and just looks completely charming.
Two more trailers came out in the last few weeks leading up to release. A short “Sneak Peek,” was much more about the adventure Pooh involves Christopher Robin in and shows them getting into all sorts of gently madcap situations that challenge Robin’s British reserve. A week or so later a longer “Extended Sneak Peek” basically combined much of the footage from all the trailers and other materials into one video to give audiences a really good look at what the movie was going to entail.
Online and Social
Ummm….really? The movie’s official website is so bare bones I thought it was an indie drama. There’s no synopsis, no cast list, no interactive adventures or anything else, just the trailer and a collection of other videos. Very disappointing. There’s only slightly more information on the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
A significant online ad campaign was run in support of the movie’s release. That included promoted posts on social media that used various videos from the rest of the campaign and other website ads that utilized some combination of video clips and elements pulled from the key art and other promotional material.
Media and Publicity
Outside of the release of marketing materials the movie’s first real press activity was when it was part of Disney’s nostalgia-heavy CinemaCon presentation to media and exhibitors. New photos were released at about the same time and shown off in EW’s summer movie preview issue.
As the summer movie season wound down in mid-July, Disney released a featurette that explained how this film fit into the long history of Winnie the Pooh, particularly the animated classic. Future featurettes included looks at Pooh’s snippets of wisdom and an interview McGregor did with Pooh.
The cast, particularly McGregor and costar Hayley Atwell, who plays Christopher Robin’s wife, did a few fan Q&As online. Atwell showed up on “Kimmel” to talk about the movie while McGregor did likewise on “Ellen.”
The red carpet premiere allowed the cast to talk more about the gentle, slow theme of the movie and how relevant that is in today’s world.
You have to hand it to McGregor and Atwell, both of whom seem totally game to engage in the kind of silliness this campaign often called for. That’s all done in the name of selling the movie as a welcome respite from the real world and the reminder that occasionally dipping into unbridled imagination is good for one’s soul.
The good news is there isn’t a whole lot of fresh competition at the box office. With tracking placing opening weekend somewhere around $30 million, the biggest threat it faces is from whatever continued strength Mission: Impossible – Fallout has. If Disney has been able to reach an audience of adults who want to share an emotional moment with their kids, it could do pretty well in attracting the family crowd.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.