Review: 'Christopher Robin' can't capture Pooh magic
Grown up Winnie-the-Pooh tale proves some childhood memories should be left alone
Winnie-the-Pooh just can't catch a break.
Last year, "Goodbye Christopher Robin" turned the story of the stuffed bear into a major bummer about the perils of unwanted stardom. And now comes "Christopher Robin," a middling live-action take on the Pooh tale that tells a routine story about trading in the innocence of childhood for the realities of adulthood and makes literal what should unfold in the imagination.
Ewan McGregor plays the all-grown-up Robin, whose formative years were spent with his pals Pooh, Eeyore, Tigger and the rest of the gang in the Hundred Acre Wood.
He now has a wife (Hayley Atwell), a young daughter (Bronte Carmichael), and a job in London working at a luggage company. He's got it all, except he's overworked and is neglecting his family at home, and has to cancel his plans for a family getaway when his boss — in a scenario reminiscent of "Office Space" — orders him to work all weekend on a big project.
What's a guy to do? Robin takes on the project — he's asked to cut 20 percent from the company's bottom line to stave off layoffs, kind of a big deal — and is visited by Pooh, his talking childhood teddy bear, who shows up to teach him a lesson of what's really important in life. Pooh does so by guiding Robin back to the Wood to meet up with the rest of his stuffed pals, who remind him of the child he once was.
Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings) is adorable — he's tattered and showing his years but is still fluffy and cozy, and he's as soft-spoken as a kind, elderly English gentleman.
But he's also a real downer, and carries on like he's been hanging around Eeyore too much. He's that childhood friend who can't move on from when you were besties in second grade, always looking back, never looking forward. (As ever, Pooh is especially fond of doing nothing, touting his personal philosophy that sometimes the best things come from doing nothing.)
Yes, he's a stuffed teddy bear, so he's not expected to understand the intricacies or challenges of adulthood. But he's a negative influence, and Robin is frankly better off without friends like that in his life.
The script — which is credited to five writers — and director Marc Forster don't see Pooh that way, they see him as a means for Robin to find his truth. They also choose to make Pooh and his friends real, not figments of Robin's imagination, but walking, talking stuffed creatures with whom others in the world interact, killing a metaphor that could have better served the story's message.
Walking, talking, charming bears in London aren't automatically a problem -- this year's "Paddington 2" is as delightful a movie as 2018 has given us — but "Christopher Robin" never achieves any magic. It's a manufactured version of whimsy, force fed, the opposite of the spirit of Pooh. The bear in the red sweater has never had to work this hard to be charming and to find his pot of honey.
McGregor is flat, and he never seems to believe in the material. If he doesn't, how can we? "Christopher Robin" shows it's not easy to update a classic. In this case, doing nothing would have been the best thing to do.
Rated PG for some action
Running time: 104 minutes