'Christopher Robin' Director Marc Forster Isn't Worried About 'Paddington' Comparisons, Explains The Film's 'Gladiator' Reference, And More [Interview]

Marc Forster has one of the most varied resumes of any director in Hollywood. It's not often you find someone who's helmed a James Bond movie (Quantum of Solace), quiet dramas (Finding Neverland), an unconventional comedy (Stranger Than Fiction), a full-fledged zombie movie (World War Z), and a live-action/CG Disney hybrid.

Unlike many of Disney's recent live-action fairy tale movies, Christopher Robin isn't a remake or even a loose adaptation of an earlier animated project. This one is a new story that basically boils down to Hook, But With Winnie The Pooh: an adult Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor), who spends too much time working and not enough time with his family, encounters his childhood pals Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, and Tigger, and learns to shift his understanding of what's truly important in life. I spoke with Forster on the phone earlier this week to ask him about stepping into the Disney machine, if the Paddington franchise impacted this film at all, a random Gladiator reference he snuck into this movie, and more. Read our full Marc Forster interview below.

Christopher Robin Trailer

What was it about this story that made you think, 'Yes, I'm going to make this my next project'?

It started on a flight with my daughter. She was watching a Pooh cartoon on her iPad, and she was six years old at the time. As she's watching, she turns to me and says, 'Can you finally make a movie for kids, for me?' She said, 'All of your other movies are for grown-ups, and too dark.' I said to her, 'OK, why don't we make Pooh!' She said, 'Exactly, do Pooh!' It was obviously more jokingly, but the stars aligned and three years later, I'm here and I made this Pooh movie. I was always a big fan of the Tao of Pooh and Pooh as a character, because there's ultimately this incredible child-like humor with him. But then he has these quotes that A.A. Milne came up with which have this incredible depth but also are absurdly funny.

Can you talk a bit about that character? Pooh is a tricky character to get right. There's a pretty fine line that you have to walk with him.

Yes, I absolutely agree with you. It's this fine line to embody his spirit, but we tried to really follow the nostalgia and the feeling of how he was created and how he speaks. Obviously what I also wanted to do was to cast Jim Cummings as the voice of Pooh because he's done it for so long, and to give it a certain authenticity. Someone who has inhabited the character for the last thirty years. And at the same time, the performance is different than the cartoon. But once you hear his voice, you suddenly feel this cozy warm blanket over you, as if you have arrived at home.

The personality of the characters is probably something you couldn't change too much, but was there any temptation to reimagine the look of them?

My intention in the beginning was I wanted to go back to the early [E.H.] Shepard drawings and the early Disney drawings, once Disney bought the I.P., and look at them both. Ultimately, I wanted to be as truthful as possible to the Shepard drawings. I had my whole office filled with fabrics and tried different fabrics in the light and made sure there was certain wear and tear in them, because young Christopher Robin played with those animals. Once he leaves, you want to feel like they've been used, and hugged, and loved. Ultimately, with the sweater, for instance, Jenny Beavan, our costume designer, knitted that sweater by hand and it was very hard to translate into a digital version of it. I tried to be authentic, but still give it a new look.

Coming into this huge Disney machine, how many requirements are already in place for a movie like this? Are there elements that the studio insists on being included?

Very early on, I made a presentation of how I saw the movie, what I wanted to do with the movie, and we were all very much aligned to make the same movie. Once I started prepping and designing the characters, they seemed to embrace the vision and the look, so I never had any issues with that.

Interesting. Was there a Gladiator reference with Pooh's hand in the wheat in this movie?

Yeah, I did that purely as a joke. My DP first said to me, 'What are you doing? That's not original.' I said, 'No, it's hilarious!' (laughs) Pooh as the gladiator touching the flowers.

Was there a worry that the Paddington movies might have already cornered the cute and cuddly bear market?

No, I think – Paddington is a bear. This is a stuffed animal, a toy. They're very different, personality-wise. I think Pooh's behavior is very different than Paddington's, I think the two of them don't have that much in common in regard to character and personality. Obviously Paddington is much more active. So I wasn't worried about that.

christopher robin trailer

Can you tell me about the color palette for this movie? How did you arrive at the visual look of the film?

There's a painter called Lowry I really like, who painted London during that time period, which was a reference for me. In the city of London during that time, there was lots of fog. And they used coal, so it wasn't as clean. I tried to have almost no green in the city – just the little park where they meet, which is sort of reminiscent of the Hundred Acre Wood. But then when he leaves the city going out to the country where it becomes more sunny and he re-enters the Hundred Acre Wood, which is, again, foggy, until he comes out of the Heffalump pit. From then on, the sun is shining again.

Was there any consideration given to making the Hundred Acre Wood more of a magical kind of place? It sort of feels almost like it came straight out of the old book, but was there any conversation about making it more visually stunning?

No. Actually, I never had that desire, because I wanted to be authentic to the original book, and it was basically just a lovely forest. It was never a magical place, it was never an Alice in Wonderland type of situation.

Can you tell me a little about working with Ewan McGregor? What were the challenges for him, acting opposite nothing for a good portion of this film?

He's, I must say, I made the stuffed animal, blocked the shot, had them there, and then when it was removed, Ewan just acted to air, and he did an extraordinary job. It's very hard to act to air and make believe that you're connecting with something. Normally you have an actor or some eyes or some object to connect with. But he had to deal with make-believe.

Filming in that way, does it require more takes than a traditional scene of two human actors?

No, to be honest, Ewan was so dialed in. It was such a natural flow for him. It was really extraordinary.

What was the most challenging aspect of this production for you?

The challenging aspect is I wanted to make them feel – dealing with the stuffed animals in the beginning, on handheld movements, that you're really in there with them and that you believe them. At the end of it, that was very hard to achieve. Usually, like in Paddington, you have locked-off shots or motion control. We didn't have that. We'd basically do a reference pass with the bear, take the bear out, and then do another reference pass just with the camera which isn't the same pass because they're all different. It's very hard for the animators to insert the bear and to re-do the shot in post. That's pretty challenging to do.

Was there anything that you were able to slip into the movie that you are particularly proud of? Something that maybe allowed you to put your personal stamp on the film?

I think there are lots of those, in regard to how I shot it and did certain things [like that]. But the main thing for me, what I'm very excited and proud of, is that I got three Richard Sherman songs out of Richard Sherman. I thought if I got one, I would be blessed. But I spoke to him and he suddenly was inspired and wrote three songs for the movie, and I'm really excited and proud of these magical songs from him.

christopher robin extended sneak peek

I want to throw it to you for a second. I know you're about to embark on this big press tour, and part of that is getting asked the same questions over and over again. Are there any stories from the set or during the making of this movie that you don't think you'll be asked about, but that you want to bring to light?

We shot down in Ashdown Forest. Where we built our Pooh Bridge is almost on the same river that is connected to the A.A. Milne estate. When we were shooting there in the forest, it was almost – in England, the weather can be very tricky. Where the log and the lonely tree is, every time I was at that location, the weather was just perfect – exactly what I needed. The clouds were there, or the sunset was there, and that usually doesn't happen. It was pure magic. We shot part of that there in 65 millimeter, all these wide shots. When you've made enough movies, you know that this never happens. You almost felt like, we're here on this land and it's almost like the creation of Pooh is shining up on us, because everything is perfectly fine, exactly the way I envision it, and you have no control over it.


Christopher Robin arrives in theaters now.