In post WWII London, Winslow Luggage's efficiency manager is under the gun to reduce costs by 20% or see the company go under. Tasked with working the weekend by boss Giles Winslow (Mark Gatiss), he must disappoint his wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and young daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael) who go off to their country cottage alone. But a surprising visitor from his childhood, Winnie the Pooh (voice of Jim Cummings, Pooh since 1988), shows up in unfamiliar territory with life lessons for "Christopher Robin."
Less than 10 months after Fox Searchlight's "Goodbye Christopher Robin," which examined how Milne's success affected the son which inspired it, along comes Disney with a live action take on that fictionalized son's adulthood. Screenwriting talent like Alex Ross Perry ("Listen Up Philip"), "Spotlight's" Tom McCarthy and "Hidden Figures's" Allison Schroeder sets high expectations, so it is disappointing to see yet another take on the workaholic father having to be reminded of the importance of childhood, a theme that's been done to death. The good news is that once the talking stuffed animals of Christopher Robin's past come into the picture, one cannot help but be charmed, indeed won over by all involved, the screenwriters expertly mining Pooh's singular philosophies.
After a brief flashback prologue at Christopher Robin's goodbye party in Hundred Acre Wood ('The House at Pooh Corner' ended with Robin leaving for boarding school), we're brought through the years during the film's opening credits, various chapter headings indicating the death of Robin's father and the meeting of his wife accompanied by yellowing, animated pen and ink drawings. After Winslow's ultimatum, the weekend spent working confusingly dealt with as both an exception and par for the course by Evelyn, Christopher (Ewan McGregor) further expresses his remove from childhood with his dry reading choice for Madeline's bed time. She's astonished when she finds dad's old drawings of himself with his pals, that version of Christopher Robin unimaginable to her. She leaves him a note when she and Evelyn depart for the country.
Returning to the family's London townhouse, Christopher must duck into a local park to avoid a pushy neighbor and is astonished to find his funny old bear on a bench. He's truly moved, but after Pooh wrecks honeyed havoc on his lonely household, he decides to bring him back home. The pair's trip to the train station is marked by Christopher's panic at those noticing his teddy can talk, but the train trip itself is marked by Christopher's desire to quiet Pooh so he can work. Pooh, a bear of admittedly little brain, is confused by this adult Christopher who yells at him that Heffalumps are not real. After losing Pooh, the guilty Robin dramatically falls upon Eeyore (voice of Brad Garrett), then the rest of the gang, even finding the old play within himself, but after falling asleep in the woods, he panics, rushing back to London for his all important meeting. Just after he's departed, Tigger (also voiced by Cummings) unveils the new raincoat he's made for Eeyore - out of Robin's important work papers. Tigger, Eeyore and Piglet (voice of Nick Mohammed) reach out to an astonished Madeline.
Director Marc Forster's work has ranged all over the map from his eerily effective "Everything Put Together" to the Oscar winning drama "Monster's Ball" to James Bond, literary adaptations and special effects extravaganzas like "World War Z." That experience serves him well here. After his efficient opening backgrounding, Forster introduces us to the stress of adulthood, plunges us into pathos, then serves up a marvelous adventure, all capped with an ending with politically progressive subtext. The stuffed animals, which also include Rabbit (voice of Peter Capaldi), Kanga (voice of Sophie Okonedo), Roo (voice of Sara Sheen) and Owl (voice of Toby Jones), are perfectly realized, 'real life' versions of those we know so well, the oldest of them (Pooh and Piglet) showing the wear and tear of lots of love, their digitally enhanced movement never too slick.
McGregor does a fine job, stress clearly taking its toll without the actor getting manic - it's shocking enough to see him yell in frustration. The pull of his childhood friends is a gentle one, McGregor's slip into play also a logical ploy to Robin's own ends. But let's be honest - it is Pooh and his friends who are the real draw here. Cummings deserves a lot of credit, his wonderful line readings impossible to resist (even Old Man Winslow (Oliver Ford Davies) takes to the wisdom of 'Doing nothing often leads to the very best kind of something.') Carmichael is one of those old souls in a young body, her seriousness a consequence of dad's distance. The newer members of the vocal cast are all spot on, although Garrett, an otherwise well chosen Eeyore, is a bit too recognizable as a celebrity voice.
After listening to Christopher Robin's explanation of how his job might encompass having to lay off workers, Pooh responds 'Could you let me go?' It's a heartbreaking moment. And the answer is no, never. "Christopher Robin" is another worthy addition to the legacy of A.A. Milne's celebration of childhood.
Robin did not see this film.
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