Christopher Robin may not be wandering around a 100-acre wood anymore, but he’s just as lost as he ever was. He’s an adult now, working way too much and losing touch with his young family. He could use a little help finding his way out of his very adult predicament—and he finds it in some old, stuffed, but surprisingly lively childhood friends of his: Eeyore. Rabbit. Piglet. And, of course, Winnie-the-Pooh.
So goes the setup for Disney’s new live-action film Christopher Robin, coming to theaters this weekend. (Look for our review on Friday.)
The film was the brainchild of Brigham Taylor, who started noodling on a very different sort of Winnie-the-Pooh story 15 years ago. In the years between then and now, Taylor’s worked on a variety of Disney projects, from Secretariat to Tomorrowland, and he produced 2016’s live-action remake of The Jungle Book. But he never forgot about Pooh—unlike, perhaps, his fictional Christopher Robin.
Plugged In talked with Taylor about Winnie-the-Pooh, Christopher Robin and his 24-year stint at the Mouse House. He told us why A.A. Milne’s beloved hero is still relevant today and why he considers himself a “steward” of Pooh’s legacy.
Paul Asay: A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories had a huge impact on me growing up, as I’m guessing they did for you. Was this a fun experience, bringing a story based on those characters to life?
Brigham Taylor: It was. It was one of the best experiences of my career here, and I feel like I’ve been very fortunate to have [had] a lot wonderful experiences on different shows. But this was particularly satisfying—not just because of the subject matter, which has always been near and dear to my heart, and to see something come to fruition after sort of a long time thinking about it—but more importantly to have such wonderful collaborators, from Mark [Forster], our director, right on down to every crew member we ended up assembling. It was a great team. Everyone sort of felt like they signed on for the right reasons.
Asay: You really started thinking about this story 15 years ago, right?
Taylor: Yeah, which isn’t to say I’d been thinking maniacally for 15 years about this. But since childhood, I’ve loved the characters, and I felt like there was a way to reintroduce Pooh. … Disney had done a good job of programming both films and television programs with Pooh, but I think they’d become more and more targeted to young audiences and sometimes a preschool audience. But I’ve always felt that Pooh was bigger and broader than that in terms of his appeal. So I said, What about a feature that’s told through an adult’s perspective? A grown Christopher Robin? Not just that, but telling it in a live action way, so that Pooh became a real, tactile thing.
Asay: And Pooh does have some depth to him. He can come across a little like an unintentional philosopher at times. Is that one of the things that attracts you to the character?
Taylor: There are so many things to be charmed about [Milne’s work] by reading it. And a lot of it has to do with the disparity between the [characters’] absolute politeness, which mask the frustration and real conflict that can occur between these characters. We need to remember that they don’t always get along: In fact, they rarely do, but they find their way through it. But to your point, Pooh has this weird, sort of nonsense way of always making sense … which I think keeps people coming back to this character. Because he’s so heartfelt and sincere in his silliness.
Asay: You mentioned that sense of gentility about Pooh and his friends. Seems like that arguably makes these characters more timely than ever, given how shrill everything feels these days. Is Pooh a hero our age particularly needs?
Taylor: I think Pooh is relevant always, and I think especially today. We seem to be getting more busy, and more distracted. And we’re even getting more siloed [and isolated] even in our downtime. I think I’m guilty of this. Between our devices and our jobs and everything else, we are getting separated.
Pooh to me doesn’t just profess a philosophy about taking time and making time to just sort of do nothing—meaning doing your favorite things—he’s also about doing those things together. We always see Pooh not just as a solitary figure, but as someone who is holding the hand of his friend Piglet, or playing with Christopher. It’s about togetherness. And so those things are always important and valuable.
Asay: When I look at your career with Disney, from TRON: Legacy to The Jungle Book to now Pooh, you’re tasked with taking some deeply beloved properties and bringing them to new audiences. Is that intimidating? Are you wary going into these sorts of projects?
Taylor: Yes, I think that’s always healthy. But I think that there’s a confidence underneath that. I think you have to feel like you have a strong reason to tell a new version of the story, whether it’s sequelizing a cult classic like TRON or remaking a classic like The Jungle Book or sort of serializing classic characters like Winnie-the-Pooh. To me, I have such a deep love for these things that I sort of feel a sense of guardianship that helps me.
Sometimes you can see properties that you love that might be told with less of a sense of loyalty … and it can be sometimes a little bit heartbreaking. But for me, having grown up like most of us have with these Disney properties, and then having spent my professional years here for the last 24 years, I have such a deep affinity for these things. More than being daunted by it, I feel really privileged and excited by these opportunities. especially when you feel confident that there’s a reason to do it. … So yeah, it is daunting, but it’s outweighed by the thrill and sort of the privilege of being a guardian and a steward of these stories.
Asay: Most of the projects you’ve been involved with have also been pretty optimistic stories, too. Is that a conscious decision on your part? What pulls you to the stories you involve yourself in?
Taylor: I don’t think it’s an accident that most of these films do carry positive and optimistic messages. I think that’s a byproduct not just of who I am, but also where I’ve been working. [I think that sense of optimism] is a hallmark of Walt Disney and the entertainment company he founded. And that for as much heartache and misery that occurs in real life, there’s always something good to latch onto. There’s good in everyone. That to me is always resonant and it doesn’t feel Pollyannaish.
I think entertainment’s first job is to be fun and to entertain, and I think Walt would’ve said the same thing. But underneath that, I think you do want to send people away feeling better about themselves and better about the world they’re in than when they stepped into the theater. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. … As a filmgoer I think you can find positivity in films that have very dark stories. But that’s not what I’m here at Disney to do. I’m here to find those things that can entertain, that can enliven and enrich. That’s not been hard for me to gravitate to.
Is Christopher Robin inspiring? Check back on Friday to read our review of Christopher Robin, and see for yourself.