|Brigham Taylor and Winnie-the-Pooh (IMDB and Disney)|
While kids will certainly enjoy Disney’s new live-action movie featuring a silly 'ol bear, Christopher Robin speaks more to former Winnie-the-Pooh fans like grown up Brigham Taylor who still longs to revisit the Hundred Acre Wood. Brigham is a creative producer of the movie and was the spark that brought this film to light.
In the Beginning There was Pooh
Taylor has worked for Walt Disney Studios since 1994 and previously produced The Jungle Book and was an executive producer on Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and Tomorrowland, but for him, Christopher Robin has been a rather special project for two main reasons. For one, Taylor has been a lifelong fan of Winnie-the-Pooh.
“He was sort of presented to me through my mother reading us those stories from books nightly,” he tells me in a recent phone interview. “Those were some of my earliest memories, and then as a youngster I was a huge fan, as most of us were, of the Disney animation shorts. I remember first seeing them at Disneyland in the Fantasyland Theater before that was all remodeled. It was always magical.”
For the second reason, the now grown up fan has different perspective of the story and imagined what it would be like for a grown up Christopher Robin to rediscover his childhood.
“This is a story about a middle-aged man who is sort of redeeming himself from the crimes of being inattentive. I live that all of the time and I grapple with that all the time as a lot of people do as we become consumed with work and other sorts of things,” he tells me. After considering the notion, he shared his idea to another grown up who would end up directing the movie.
“So, I sat down with Marc Forster here in my office and discussed it and I pitched it to him and luckily for me, he really fell in love with the idea and attached himself and then together we looked around and made important decisions on who else we would were going to work with on this movie.”
Some of those people included Jeremy Johns, who served as executive producer and producing partner Kristen Burr. Trying to make sense of all the names involved in this great film, Taylor helped me out by explaining that John was tasked with making sure that he had the right personnel on crew on the right day they were scheduled to work and a list of many other details.
“You’re moving this big circus into the woods and out of the woods and into the cities and so, he’s got to oversee all of that,” says Taylor.
As for Burr, she had been a long-time Disney executive on the studio side who stepped into a producing role with Taylor.
“It was great fun because we’ve know each other for twenty years. So it was great to have another pair of hands. So if one of us had to travel to Los Angeles, we’d have someone else on deck and vice versa.”
And as for Taylor, he tells me that as a creative producer, he had creative oversight over all the movie’s elements including working with the writers helping them to shame the filmmaking theme, the photographers, production designers and so on.
“Every day there were a million decisions that need to be made to keep us on course creatively about everything that gets on screen and how everything appears,” says Taylor. “And so, you’re sort of overseeing all of that and are the key liaison between the movie and your studio partners who have a huge invested interest in how everything turns out. That’s your job. It’s sort of all encompassing.”
|Marc Forster and friends (Disney)|
As with any major motion picture, there are numerous challenges to face, but for Christopher Robin, Taylor said the greatest challenge was “translating” the well-known characters of Pooh Bear, Piglet, Tigger and rest into the realistic versions of themselves. The challenge here wasn’t only to bring stuffed animals to life, but to create ones that looked like there were made in the mid 1920’s but still look like our stuffed friends that we all know and love from the animated films.
“Creating that balance was part of the fun and charm, but that was a very delicate process,” says Brigham.
As seen from Jon Favreau’s version of The Jungle Book, the world of CGI has greatly improved over the years. So much so that it is difficult to know when watching Christopher Robin if actual stuffed animals were used or if Pooh and friends were animated of if there was a combination of both.
“Everything you see on screen is CGI, but the process of getting those shots, we had a wonderful shop that built very accurate versions of each one of these characters,” says Taylor. “We built the most accurate version we could of Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore – everybody – and we had them all on set. We would place them into the scenes. We would find different ways to move them about. We had an actor on set reading the lines of those characters so our actors could run a scene. We had very finished-looking ones. We had unfinished, sort of grey fabric versions that would be sort of less obstructive in a shot. Sometimes we’d even have just a torso of a stuffed animal so you’d have the proper volume being held by one of the actors. But all of that obviously gets replaced, but we used all of those techniques to get the right kind of performance and we’d be able to give our camera operators something to focus on.”
The result is nothing short of amazing. When Pooh steps in honey and leaves sticky footprints as he goes, you believe it.
Where Faith Plays a Part
Named after the religious leader of the Mormon Church (“At least you don’t get mistaken for anyone else”) it’s not surprising to learn that faith has big part in all that Brigham does with his work.
“These stories that you strive to tell – you’re only operating from your own set of beliefs and desires … you really can’t extricate yourself from your influence on the stories. You may not always be the dominate voice in the story because of the executive producer. Sometimes it varies from 20 percent to 80 percent. But this is a film that I feel that I had a larger degree of impact on because on my pitch a long time ago.”
“I’ve been lucky enough to work for a company like Disney where we really strive to always accentuate optimistic messages and even inspirational things. I’ve had the opportunity to work on a lot of inspirational sports theme stories though my career like Remember the Titans and Secretariat and Miracle and The Rookie. Those are the best kind of movies because they are based in reality and speak to the actual triumph each individual is capable of. So I love that. And that is something that is so fully embraced by Disney.”
When asked if Taylor had to work on any project that had conflicted with his faith, he tells me that he can’t think of a time that he has worked on a movie that didn’t have a redemptive quality to it. And while he does believe that showing an opposition to the things that humans value best can be used as a source of inspiration and good drama, Taylor says that he wouldn’t want to spend his waking hours on such projects. He also tells me that he wants to be respectful of all beliefs.
Finally, I asked Taylor about his thoughts about a movie that he didn’t work on. As a Mormon, I was interested in hearing his thoughts about the controversy that surrounded the short scene in the recent Beauty and the Beast live action remake which seemed to suggest that Gaston’s sidekick, LeFou, had a thing for men.
“To me it was kind of a funny, delightful, funny little moment that passed by and was rather exaggerated in a way. But I get it. These are big cultural questions and I understand why these things get held up and I even understand why in the context of Disney why the company becomes more scrutinized because people want to believe that Disney has to be just one thing and I think that even Disney has a responsibility to be inclusive of different cultures and different ideas as long as those aren’t directly harmful and don’t tear one anther down and so I think that’s a positive thing.”