‘Christopher Robin’ a Winnie the Pooh fairy tale as sweet as hunny
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When last we saw Christopher Robin, he was a grown man who hated that name, resented his father for putting him in those blasted books, enlisted in World War II, was reported missing — and finally reconciled with his parents.
That was the story of last year’s “Goodbye Christopher Robin,” which was inspired by the true-life story of Winnie the Pooh author A.A. Milne and his complicated relationship with his son Christopher Robin Milne, aka Billy.
Now comes “Christopher Robin,” and once again we see the title character as a grown man — and though it follows essentially the same timeline and there’s a passage in which the title character enlists in the British Army during World War II, this is not the story of the A.A. Milne’s son.
It’s a live action/CGI combo fairy tale about the grown-up Christopher Robin, a humorless, career-obsessed executive who neglects his wife and child in favor of his stressful job, and has lost all sense of whimsy and imagination and playfulness.
Until the day his old friend Winnie the Pooh shows up on a park bench near Christopher’s London home, and asks for Christopher’s help in finding Pooh’s dear old friends, all of whom gone missing.
Ewan McGregor plays the grown-up Christopher Robin, head of efficiency operations for the struggling suitcase department of the gigantic Winslow Corp. (We’re told folks aren’t in a traveling mood in the immediate aftermath of World War II, so suitcase sales are down.)
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Basically Christopher’s job is to cut corners every way possible — and he has all of one weekend to figure out how to slash the budget by 20 percent, or the department will be shut down and his whole team will be out of work.
Wouldn’t you know it, this was the weekend when Christopher was supposed to take his wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and their daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael) to the “cottage” in Sussex that sits on the Hundred Acre Wood.
That’s right, the site of Christopher’s childhood adventures with Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger and the gang.
Alas, Christopher once again disappoints Evelyn and Madeline when he tells them he’ll have to stay in London and work through the weekend.
Meanwhile, Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings) stumbles about the foggy woods, calling in vain for his friends and finding himself all alone. Right around the time Christopher’s wife and child are arriving at the country house, our melancholy little bear friend winds up on the aforementioned park bench in London — where he bumps into none other than the grown-up Christopher, whom he instantly recognizes even though it’s been some 30 years since they said goodbye.
Christopher is startled but not shocked to see Pooh. Nor does it take him long to accept he’s not seeing things, that this is really Winnie the Pooh, who is still a little guy and still obsessed with honey and still apologetic when he messes up, attributing his missteps to being “a bear of very little brain.”
This is the fairy tale portion of “Christopher Robin.” Pooh and friends really do exist. They are not invisible to all but Christopher. When they talk (though they try not to talk or move about when among crowds), other humans can hear them and of course freak about at that.
The CGI creations are pretty adorable, essentially looking like stuffed animals that can walk and jump and run and talk. (It takes a scene or two for us to forget about Winnie the Pooh’s passing resemblance to a certain other animated movie bear whose R-rated antics would shock the honey out of Pooh.)
Jim Cummings, who has voiced Winnie the Pooh on various projects for decades, also voices Tigger. Brad Garrett is perfectly voice-cast (and gets the most laughs) as Eeyore; Nick Mohammed is Piglet; Sophie Okonedo is Kanga; Sara Sheen is Roo; Peter Capaldi is Rabbit; Toby Jones is Owl. They’re all terrific at capturing the innocence and the childlike wonder of those characters, the family bond they share — and their undying devotion to Christopher Robin even after all these years.
“Christopher Robin” shares some traits with Steven Spielberg’s “Hook” (1991), Forster’s “Finding Neverland” (2004) and John Lee Hancock’s “Saving Mr. Banks” (2013) in that we revisit beloved fairy tales (and classic movie and TV characters) in a new way. The plot, so to speak, isn’t much. Pooh has lost his friends and Christopher Robin has lost sight of what’s important and might just lose his family — unless somehow, some way, they can help each other!
Simple. Sweet. Effective.
And it’s always nice to revisit the Hundred Acre Wood.
Walt Disney Studios presents a film directed by Marc Forster and written by Alex Ross Perry and Allison Schroeder. Rated PG (for some action). Running time: 104 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.