There are certain works of art that are larger than even their creators ever intended, that ripple through culture for generations in ways that no one could have expected. I am relatively sure that when A.A. Milne wrote his two classic books about his son, Christopher Robin Milne, and the stuffed animals he played with while growing up, the author had no idea just how deeply those books would pierce generations of readers.
There are two books by Benjamin Hoff that I fell in love with in college in which Hoff uses the Milne characters, particularly Winnie-The-Pooh, to examine the belief system Taoism. What sounds like a joke is actually fairly moving and profound, and not only does it do a bang-up job of explaining Taoism, it also points out just how beautiful and nuanced Milne's writing truly is.
People love to pound on Disney because they are an intellectual property mill, but they are making some fascinating choices these days. I think the original “Pete's Dragon” is a mess of a movie, but hiring David Lowery to make the new version was an out-of-the-box left turn from the way most studios hire on their big movies. Lowery's breakthrough on the festival circuit, “Ain't Them Bodies Saints,” is a small, delicate character drama, not exactly the most immediate audition for a film where there's a major character created entirely by CG. What Lowery's great at is character and intimacy, and if he can bring that to a big Disney film, that becomes an exciting prospect.
Alex Ross Perry is just as unlikely a choice for a big Disney film. His film “Listen Up Philip” is a blisteringly angry portrait of a misanthrope, but one of the main things running through that film is a sense of regret. His characters in that film are trapped by their own natures, and even if they become slightly self-aware, they don't know how to be anything but what they are. With the word today on Deadline that Perry will be writing/directing a film about an adult Christopher Robin returning to the Hundred Acre Wood, it sounds like Disney has made another intriguing choice.
The worst case scenario for a film like this is “Hook.” And, no '90s children, “Hook” is not a good movie. If you were to have a conversation with Steven Spielberg about it, I'm almost positive he'd back me up on that. “Hook” is a great idea for a film, but it's not a good film. The same thing that works about the idea for “Hook” is true of this idea. Winnie-The-Pooh isn't just a stuffed animal; he is Christopher Robin's childhood, and all of the characters in the Hundred Acre Wood are aspects of how Milne saw his son. There are many reasons an adult Christopher Robin might need to return to the place where his childhood lived, and I'm hoping Perry's going to make something that gets to the beautiful truth of Milne's work.
I have reason to hope, too. Disney has treated the Milne books very well. There has always been an enormous respect for the gentle nature of Milne's work in the way Disney has treated the characters, at least in the movies. There's also been a lot of legal turmoil over the years involving the property and the studio. There is a mountain of money on the table when you're talking about “Pooh,” so if Disney is signing off on Alex Ross Perry as the man for the job, they must have faith he's going to make something that can be big, and that will not damage this thing that they're so heavily invested in.
The “Pete's Dragon” gig was a big deal. It's a big step forward for Lowery. The “Jungle Book” that Favreau is making right now is a major deal, and there's trust shown when the studio hires a filmmaker to interpret one of their most beloved films. But I'd argue “Winnie The Pooh” is one of cornerstone properties for Disney, and Alex Ross Perry just signed on for a huge opportunity that is an equally huge responsibility. He has to honor Milne, he has to satisfy Disney's commercial needs, and he has to make a good film. Here's hoping he's the man for the job.