***½ out of five stars
What happens when Winnie The Pooh’s best friend grows up? Fans of the silly old bear and his pals from the Hundred Acre Wood will find out in this new live-action/CGI hybrid film from Walt Disney Studios.
Christopher Robin (played by Ewan McGregor and as a child by Orton O’Brien), as we all know, was the human best friend of the stuffed toy bear Winnie The Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings). Eventually, Christopher had to leave Pooh and company behind when he went to boarding school. He eventually marries a woman named Evelyn (Hayley Atwell), has a daughter named Madeline (Bronte Carmichael, with Elsa Minell Solak playing the character as a 3-year-old), and serves as a soldier in World War II.
Post-war, Christopher is employed by Winslow Luggages. He is so preoccupied with his job that he spends precious little time with his family. One fateful weekend, the tight deadline for a new efficiency plan causes him to miss out on a family vacation at their cottage in Sussex. When he takes a moment to unwind on a bench, he is shocked to encounter Pooh for the first time in ages. Pooh explains that his friends from the Hundred Acre Wood have gone missing, and perhaps fate has resulted in the two old pals crossing paths again. Christopher is tasked with not only completing his efficiency plan on time, but also finding Pooh’s pals and keeping the bear of very little brain out of trouble.
Christopher Robin could be described as a cross between Steven Spielberg’s Hook and the Paddington movies. Like Hook, the film features a character from a beloved children’s story all grown up and dealing with a mid-life crisis. In both cases, the central character has become a workaholic whose busy-but-mundane life is turned upside down with the reemergence of fantastical childhood acquaintances. And, as in the Paddington films, an anthropomorphic CGI bear uses his good-hearted nature to charm the cynics of London.
Christopher Robin’s message of being true to your inner child is admittedly predictable and unoriginal but is nevertheless presented in a very delightful manner. The film’s strongest assets are its actors. Ewan McGregor does a wonderful job portraying Christopher Robin through his various emotional ups and downs over the course of the film’s story. Hayley Atwell and Bronte Carmichael as the wife and daughter, respectively, serve as anchors to reality, as their characters are ordinary people caught up in Christopher and Pooh’s misadventures.
The real star may be Jim Cummings returning as the voice of Pooh and Tigger. Cummings has been a part of the Pooh series for 30 years now, and his performance is not only as good as it ever was but also provides an important vocal continuity. The only other character whose voice emulates Disney’s long-running Pooh franchise is Eeyore, voiced here by Brad Garrett. All the other animals are voiced by British actors, such as Doctor Who’s Peter Capaldi as Rabbit, Nick Mohammed as Piglet and Toby Jones as Owl. Perhaps the blend of American and English actors was a compromise between the different international producers of this film. In any case, everyone does a good job at voicing the characters. And the CGI designs for the animals gives them a weathered, realistic look while retaining enough similarities to Disney’s classic Pooh animation.
If you’ve ever enjoyed the tales of Winnie The Pooh, either through the original books by A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard or the many film and TV projects produced by Disney, Christopher Robin is worth a watch. But please stay through to the end credits for an extra treat even sweeter than fresh honey.