Disney's "Christopher Robin" Kept Afloat By Pooh And Friends

Parents of young children could do worse than plunking their little ones down in front of “Christopher Robin,” Disney’s new live action and CGI Winnie-the-Pooh hybrid. They themselves might be intermittently enchanted, reminiscing of their own time in author A.A. Milne’s time-honored Hundred Acre Wood. Pooh, Eeyore, Tigger, Piglet et al. are all here, lovingly animated as anthropomorphized stuffed animals coping with the departure of their beloved Christopher Robin – once a boy, now a young man off to boarding school.

And while there are real moments of compassion and warmth that follow, the sum is soft and spartan to the point of inconsequence, bizarrely utilizing a middle-aged man – a grown-up Christopher Robin, played by Ewan McGregor – to impart its simplistic narrative to its very young target audience. The only thing that lingers in this accidental redo of 1991 Spielberg dud “Hook” is a question: who is this movie for?

After a quaint, teary prologue that shows a pre-teen Christopher Robin saying his final goodbyes to his animal friends, director Marc Forster and a trio of screenwriters (Oscar-winner Tom McCarthy, Alex Ross Perry, and Allison Schroeder) swiftly trace their title character’s steps to middle age. There’s a meet-cute with his future wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell), his time in the British Army during World War II, the birth of the couple’s daughter Madeline, and then the making of a mundane home life in London where the lead works for a stuffy luggage company.

Just as Christopher becomes caught up in his job to the point of neglecting his family, Pooh traverses through a door to London where he reunites with his old friend – one who’s quite flustered to see him. Pooh’s animal friends have gone missing; with a lot of absent-minded prodding, the honey-guzzling bear convinces an incredulous, preoccupied Christopher Robin to return with him to the Hundred Acre Wood so that they may track down the rest of its residents.

Unsurprisingly, Pooh and Tigger, both performed by longtime voice actor Jim Cummings, get the most screen time of the plush characters. Brad Garrett voices Eeyore, while Peter Capaldi, Toby Jones, and others fill out the voice cast. The animals are uniformly a delight, even if Disney-fied asides like Tigger’s Richard Sherman-penned theme song aren’t a fit with the washed out visuals and general Britishness that owe to Milne’s original books.

Inevitably, Christopher comes to re-embrace his inner child, finally attempting to do right by his family – with the assistance of Pooh and company, of course.

McGregor does his best to sell the character’s abrupt transformation from interminable company man to born-again child but it’s never convincing. A forty-something father is a strange vessel for a reheated tale of redemption aimed at kids. Fortunately, the likability of the animals is a good tonic for just how curmudgeonly and then saccharine Christopher is; Pooh saves the day and finally the film from itself.

Marc Forster’s movie mostly does right by its characters, but unlike recent Disney live-action releases, it’s not necessarily for the whole family. Only Pooh fanatics and young children with strong attention spans need make it appointment theatrical viewing. For everyone else, it might be best enjoyed at home, where it’ll be more of a low-risk, medium-reward proposition. “Christopher Robin” may have its charms, but not nearly enough to fill up a Hundred Acre Wood.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ out of ★★★★★ (Okay)

Release Date: August 3, 2018
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Director: Marc Forster
Screenwriters: Alex Ross Perry, Tom McCarthy, Allison Schroeder
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael, Mark Gatiss, Jim Cummings, Brad Garrett, Toby Jones, Nick Mohammed, Peter Capaldi, Sophie Okonedo
MPAA Rating: PG (for some action)