Opening Friday, Aug. 3
The least interesting thing about Christopher Robin is Christopher Robin.
Decades after departing from the Hundred Acre Wood as a teenager, Robin (Ewan McGregor) is all grown up, not to mention a World War II veteran. He has a wife (Hayley Atwell), a daughter (Bronte Carmichael), and a job that monopolizes his family time. In fact, he has to miss a family getaway when his sniveling boss (Mark Gatiss) tasks him to spend a weekend concocting cuts to the company’s worsening bottom line to fend off mass layoffs.
Director Marc Forster strains this already standard setup through a gauzy, maudlin filter that’s mercifully interrupted by Robin’s childhood pal, Winnie the Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings), who can’t find Tigger, Eeyore, Owl, Piglet, Rabbit, Kanga, and Roo back in the Hundred Acre Wood. So Pooh squeezes through a hollow tree and comes out in London, where he seeks Robin’s help.
Pooh and his pals are re-imagined as CGI plush toys in this live-action rework, and seeing them as something other than their iconic animated versions takes some getting used to. Moreover, when Pooh lands on Robin’s doorstep, Robin is basically a jerk. But this disquietude and the film as a whole settle down when Robin and Pooh venture back to the Wood. There, the familiar personalities of the characters emerge, from Eeyore’s charming malaise to Tigger’s mania and Piglet’s nervousness.
The star of the show, of course, is Pooh, with his honeyed manner, his penchant for malapropisms and fortune-cookie wisdom (”I always get to where I’m going by walking away from where I’ve been”). When Robin exclaims, “I’m an adult!” to convince Pooh that both he and the times have changed, Pooh’s retort, “You’re Christopher Robin,” is both simple and thick with meaning.
Too much of Christopher Robin relies on fish-out-of-water hijinks, whether it’s the adult Robin battling heffalumps or Pooh and his gang traveling to London, and they don’t pair well with the unimaginative plotting. Ewan McGregor plays Robin like any other Ewan McGregor role. Still, there’s something comforting and surprisingly touching about Pooh and company’s simple, childlike worldview against the backdrop of our own present. When Pooh asks Robin what is more important, his briefcase full of important papers or a red balloon, the answer suddenly isn’t so obvious.