How many Pooh Bears does it take to screw in a light bulb? Only one, then he waits until the story revolves around him. This simple formula has worked exceedingly well for the infamous bear of little brain. The original children’s book series, by A.A. Milne, began in 1926, while Disney began its string of Winnie the Pooh movies and featurettes in 1966.
This is not to be confused with last year’s more serious “Goodbye Christopher Robin” from Fox Searchlight Studios, which provided a rare glimpse into the relationship between author A.A. Milne and his son, Christopher Robin Milne. This is also not on the same entertainment scale as the charming Paddington Bear movies (2014, 2017).
“Christopher Robin” tells the clichéd story of a career man losing touch with his inner child. Ewan McGregor stars as the title character trapped by work with little time for wife Evelyn (Haley Atwell, “Agent Carter”), daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael) and certainly not for Winnie the Pooh and Tigger too. Quite right. He explains to Madeline, “Dreams aren’t free, you have to work for them.”
Young children and die-hard fans of the Hundred Acre Wood should find this feature fairly satisfying, but casual moviegoers, at best, may be mildly entertained. It’s a given, that other than Tigger, the characters move in slo-mo. In that spirit, the movie starts at a measured pace and remains sluggish for most of the duration. However, it finishes at an acceptably moderate stride and wraps up the loose ends in tidy fashion.
This story begins with young Christopher Robin preparing for boarding school. He bids farewell to his anthropomorphic friends but pledges to never forget these furry creatures. Off he goes to school, then to war and finally into the adult world of woozles and hufalumps, including marriage, a child and career.
At the very worst/best possible moment, Pooh Bear visits his old friend Christopher. They return to a long-forgotten childhood past in the Hundred Acre Wood to help find Pooh’s friends, including Eeyore, Piglet, Kanga, Roo and Owl. Jim Cummings would make Sterling Holloway (original voice of Winnie) proud as he voices Winnie and Tigger (since 1988). Other voices include Brad Garrett (15th Disney movie) and Toby Jones.
To his credit, director Marc Forster (“Finding Neverland”) begins and ends the story with some original E.H. Shepard drawings and bases the CGI characters more on the original stuffed animals on display in the New York Public Library as opposed to the more colorful creations we are more accustomed to seeing in later Disney features.
This film feels old-fashioned. For authenticity, the Hundred Acre Wood scenes were filmed at Ashdown Forest, the original inspiration for the book. Unless you knew that factoid beforehand, these woods feel very ordinary and not so inspiring.
Some of Winnie’s lines are almost Yogi-isms, “Doing nothing often leads to the very best kind of something.” And, “I always get to where I’m going by walking away from where I’ve been.” On the flip side, two quotes have been erroneously attributed to A.A. Milne, but were incorporated into this film’s dialogue, “People say ‘nothing’ is impossible, but I do nothing every day.” And, “What day is this?” “It’s today.” “That’s my favorite day.”
“Christopher Robin” is 104 minutes, which makes it the longest Pooh movie to date. It is the first in the series to be rated PG (not G) for some action. McGregor often seems like he’s laboring to make this movie entertaining and poignant but never quite gets there. However, we were pleased to see legendary Disney songwriter Richard Sherman playing the piano on the beach during the end credits.
This movie is banned in China, as President Xi Jinping is commonly mocked as the famous dim-witted honey bear. There is an important message about the importance of forgotten childhood and a balanced family life. There is enough schmaltz to go around. So if Pooh were married, would he ever say, “Hi ‘honey,’ I’m home!?”
Ron’s Rating: C Leigh’s Rating: C