With 'Christopher Robin,' Local Author Explores Beloved Characters From Her Childhood

By: Rowan Wood

Topics: Local authors

Local author Elizabeth Rudnick Hessler and her son Jameson. Her novelization of the new Disney film “Christopher Robin” is out now. COURTESY PHOTO

CHATHAM — Local author Elizabeth Rudnick Hessler has novelized countless films for Disney, one of the world’s largest entertainment conglomerates, including recent live-action remakes such as 2015’s “Cinderella” and 2017’s “Beauty and the Beast.”

Hessler’s latest Disney adaptation is of “Christopher Robin,” a film released in early August featuring classic characters such as Winnie the Pooh and Piglet.

“I first found out about a year and a half ago that I was adapting the film,” said Hessler, “and I finished it up last year. I was initially thrilled because I had just had my son, whose middle name is Milne (after A.A. Milne, the original author of the ‘Winnie the Pooh’ stories). I grew up reading and loving the Pooh stories, it’s such an iconic childhood memory for me.

“I was just so excited that they were asking me to do it. I was a little bit hesitant, actually, after I realized that the weren’t just retelling the story. Their version would be a unique view of Christopher Robin as an adult, and I was hesitant because I didn’t know how you broach that in a novelization that is aimed for a younger audience.”

The film stars Ewan McGregor (“Perfect for the role,” commented Hessler) as Christopher Robin, an aging war veteran and workaholic who’s forgotten his adventures as a child in the Hundred-Acre Wood with his animal friends.

“The message is a really good reminder for adults,” said Hessler. “Both imagination and taking a break are very important. After I got over the hesitation, I used it as an excellent opportunity to remind myself and others of that message."

Unlike past Winnie the Pooh movies, “Christopher Robin” barely shows the protagonist as a child and is a truly original tale, or, as Hessler puts it, “a beautiful story. It’s truly a Disney film, for all ages. In the same way that Disney-Pixar speaks to parents and kids, this does the same thing in that it’s all about heart and family and stopping to remember what the important things in life are. In this day and age and this climate, that sort of innocence is so taken for granted and overlooked.”

According to Hessler, one of the main themes of both her book and the film is that “we know that moments and experiences define us, and you can let them define you and change you, but they can also help you evolve. Christopher evolves into a sadder person, but then realizes he pushed it too far down and he’s still the Christopher Robin of his youth. The story is an in-depth character study of Christopher Robin. We see the things that drove him to change and forget Pooh.”

Even though Hessler has novelized numerous films, including “Maleficent” and “Oz the Great and Powerful,” in addition to writing original stories based on Disney properties, including “A Frozen Heart” and “Pete’s Dragon: The Lost Years,” she rarely watches the films she novelizes.

“I’m surprised by the choices they make,” she said, referring to the changes they make from the script she receives to base her novel on to the final film. “I think that it’s always interesting that I get to see characters develop further, or that they get taken out altogether.”

Hessler broke her non-viewing streak with “Christopher Robin” after a book signing at the Orpheum Theater last Thursday. “This film is a great example of having a good script and sticking to it. The script is pretty much spot on to what I saw. There were a few changes and they brought a new lightness because the original script was darker, delving more into Christopher growing up. It was smart of them to truncate that for the film.”

One of the things that “Christopher Robin” uses to its advantage is its nostalgia effect, especially for people like Hessler who grew up reading the stories. In fact, that’s one of the things that Hessler loved most about the film. “It’s a trip down memory lane,” she said, “especially opening scenes [which show Pooh and his friends throwing young Christopher a goodbye party]. I didn’t realize how powerful the nostalgia would be until I saw the first trailer. They haven’t always cast the films I novelize when I get the script, and hearing Pooh’s voice instantly brought me back to my living room watching those movies. It feels cozy, warm and thankful, like you’re going home again. It really makes you want to smile.”

“Christopher Robin” is in theaters now, and Hessler’s novelization is available wherever books are sold.