By HEATHER TURK
Front Row Features Film Critic
Following the success of such films as 2015’s “Cinderella,” 2016’s “The Jungle Book” and 2017’s “Beauty and the Beast,” it was only a matter of time before Disney gave “Winnie-the-Pooh” author A. A. Milne and illustrator E. H. Shepard’s beloved storybook characters the live action/CGI film treatment.
A fairly paint-by-numbers family film, Disney’s latest live action/CGI blockbuster hopeful, “Christopher Robin,” brings to life everyone’s favorite silly ol’ bear, Winnie the Pooh (Disney doesn’t use the hyphens as Milne did in his books), and his friends from the Hundred Acre Wood: Tigger, Eeyore, Piglet, Kanga, Roo, Rabbit and Owl. Audiences first see the beloved characters as they’re sadly saying good-bye to their human pal Christopher Robin (newcomer Orton O’Brien), who is getting ready to leave his family’s countryside cottage for boarding school in London. Viewers are then treated to glimpses—or major “chapters,” if you will—of Christopher Robin’s life as he grows up, loses his father (Tristan Sturrock, “Poldark”), meets his future wife (Hayley Atwell, “Agent Carter”) and leaves to serve in the war.
When audiences are reunited with Christopher Robin (now played by Ewan McGregor, “Moulin Rouge!”) in the present day (or at least present day as far as the story is concerned), he’s stuck working for a luggage company that’s facing financial problems. Rather than go back to his childhood home with his wife and daughter (Bronte Carmichael, “Darkest Hour”) as planned for the weekend before his daughter leaves for boarding school, he’s forced to stay behind in the city to see if he can figure out a way to cut the company’s costs by 20 percent in order to save his co-workers’ jobs.
Meanwhile, Pooh—who has patiently waited for Christopher Robin to return to the Hundred Acre Wood—finds himself in a scary situation: not only is all of his honey gone, but his friends are nowhere to be found. Believing Christopher Robin will know what to do, he goes through the magical door in the Hundred Acre Wood tree that Christopher Robin always used to enter as a child to find his estranged friend and bring him back to help save Eeyore, Tigger, Piglet and the rest of the Hundred Acre Wood gang from the dreaded Heffalumps and Woozles.
What follows is supposed to be a heartwarming and eye-opening story as Christopher Robin realizes that he’s working too hard and needs to spend more time with his family instead of at the office, but the script by Alex Ross Perry (“The Color Wheel”), Tom McCarthy (“Spotlight”) and Allison Schroeder (“Hidden Figures”) is just way too predictable for older viewers to really care. Christopher Robin’s life-changing realization that he’s missing out on all the good things in his life also happens a bit too abruptly, taking away from any real emotional punch that audience members are supposed to feel.
Younger viewers, meanwhile, will be left wanting to see more of the Hundred Acre Wood characters, as really only Pooh gets a lot of screen time. Eeyore gets a few funny lines and joins Pooh, Tigger and Piglet when they venture off to London later in the film to deliver some important paperwork Tigger took out of Christopher Robin’s briefcase when he returned to the Hundred Acre Wood, but Rabbit, Kanga, Roo and Owl are barely in the movie at all. Given that the film’s trailers touted the gang as “the most beloved characters of all time,” one would think that director Marc Forster (“Finding Neverland”) would have given them a better opportunity to shine.
While the story leaves something to be desired, there are some beautiful visuals in the film—particularly the cinematography by Matthias Koenigswieser (“Calvin Harris: Flashback”) involving Winnie the Pooh walking through the Hundred Acre Wood. It’s also sure to warm older viewers’ hearts to hear Winnie the Pooh and Tigger with their same longtime voices, as voice actor Jim Cummings—who has voiced the characters since the late 1980s—returns to voice the cherished characters. Brad Garrett (“Everybody Loves Raymond”) is also perfectly cast, reprising his role as the voice of everyone’s favorite depressed donkey—a role he voiced before in the “Animated StoryBook: Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree” PC video game. As for McGregor, he does a decent enough job as the overworked Christopher Robin, although the true standout stars of the film are of the CGI variety.
Even though it only appears onscreen briefly, it should be noted for those bringing younger viewers to see the movie that there is an intense war sequence shown at the start of the film during the Christopher Robin growing up montage—or at least pretty intense for a PG-rated movie. Really, though, the majority of “Christopher Robin’s” 104-minute runtime is pretty bleak, so those expecting a happy, uplifting movie might want to look elsewhere.
Ultimately, “Christopher Robin” is fairly forgettable. While it’s nice to spend some time with the Hundred Acre Wood gang and the CGI characters are cute, one can’t help but feel disappointed by the movie’s lackluster story. The film is void of any real emotional connection, which seems almost impossible due to the fact that audiences of all ages have had that with these characters for practically their entire lives. Pooh and his friends deserve way better than this. Let’s just hope that if there is a sequel (since surely curious moviegoers will come out to see the film) they get better material to work with.