Author A. A. Milne and illustrator E. H. Shepard's Hundred Acre Wood creations are anything but imaginary in Disney's winsome, poignant live-action family film "Christopher Robin." Directed by Marc Forster (2013's "World War Z
") and written by Alex Ross Perry (2015's "Queen of Earth
") and Tom McCarthy (2015's "The Cobbler
") and Alison Schroeder (2016's "Hidden Figures"), the film yields pert humor, welcome gentility, and a bittersweet quality which should pull at the heartstrings of anyone old enough to hold perspective on the passing of his or her own childhood. Also quite appealing and unexpected: the decision to base the character designs of Christopher's friends on the original book drawings rather than their animated counterparts, giving Winnie the Pooh & Co. the appearance of stuffed animals come to life. It's a small but savvy detail, ushering this tale into a setting where the fantastical blends seamlessly with post-WWII reality.
In a sublimely touching pre-credits sequence, Pooh Bear (voiced by Jim Cummings), Tigger (Cummings, again), Eeyore (Brad Garrett), Piglet (Nick Mohammed), Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), Kanga (Sophie Okonedo), Roo (Sara Sheen) and Owl (Toby Jones) have convened for a farewell party for Christopher Robin (Orton O'Brien). It's a bucolic day within the Hundred Acre Wood sullied by their mutual understanding it's time to say good-bye to their human friend, who is leaving for boarding school and likely never to return. About 35 years later, an adult Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) has not entirely forgotten his old pals but has long since moved on. A war vet working long hours as an efficiency manager for a luggage company, Christopher doesn't get to spend as much time as he'd like with wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael). Overwhelmed by grown-up responsibilities, he is in serious need of a reminder there's more to life than businessand he gets just that when Winnie the Pooh miraculously shows up, having crossed over into London while searching for his suddenly missing Hundred Acre friends.
In its most poetic and ruminative moments, "Christopher Robin" feels like the Terrence Malick of "Winnie the Pooh" features. Director Marc Forster and cinematographer Matthias Koenigswieser blessedly avoid the freneticism of a great many modern family films while lovingly lingering on the beauty of nature and the immersion which comes with literally following from the backs of characters, the lens eavesdropping on their lives in motion. There is an unavoidable existential undercurrent to a story following a middle-aged Christopher Robin and his seemingly ageless anthropomorphic friends from decades ago, and the filmmakers embrace it. Lest it seem as if the proceedings are too serious for their own good, let it be known the picture is an ultimately cheery, feel-good affair, one that elicits more smiles than tears (though there are likely to be a handful of the latter, as well). In a creative but necessary departure from the original A. A. Milne stories, Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, and the rest of the gang are not merely stuffed toys whom a young Christopher Robin has brought to life in his mind. No, he was truly able to travel to the mystical Hundred Acre Wood through the hollow of a tree near his childhood home in Sussex. This added touch of magical realism gives the narrativeand Christopher's bond with Poohgreater consequence.
At 47, Ewan McGregor (2017's "Beauty and the Beast
") still has a youthful way about him and a potentially mischievous glint in his eyes. He wholeheartedly makes the viewer believe in the impossible. His friendships with the Hundred Acre Wood gangparticularly best buddy Winnie the Poohare winningly realized, as is the parallel love story between Christopher and his somewhat neglected family. The epiphany he experiencesif his wife and daughter mean more to him than anything, why is he constantly putting his work before them?rings with truth, and McGregor is just right in a role requiring him to move between his buttoned-up adult obligations and the joy of letting loose and having fun. Hayley Atwell (2015's "Cinderella
") and Bronte Carmichael (2018's "On Chesil Beach") are wonderfully and warmly cast as Evelyn, holding out hope workaholic husband Christopher will eventually see the light of day, and daughter Madeline, an overachiever who wants nothing more than to make her father proud. The voice cast includes familiar actors (Jim Cummings, so perfect as the honey-loving Pooh and bouncy-tailed Tigger), as well as new talent (Brad Garrett is very funny as the forever gloomy Eeyore). Of them, only Nick Mohammed (2016's "Bridget Jones's Baby
") has trouble capturing the essence and endearing vocal inflections of Piglet; he often strikes as unsure of himself, and not only because Piglet as a character often lacks confidence.
"Christopher Robin" is an uplifting bear hug of a movie. The core plot, once it gets going, reveals itself to be on the slim side, and a segment in the middle involving the fearsome Heffalumps overstays its welcome. The bliss of watching our title character reunite with his old playmates, however, cannot be overstated. There is also a nourishing satisfaction in seeing him reconnect with the person he once was, before the messiness and stresses of the real world got in the way. "Doing nothing leads to the very best something," a motto Christopher comes to remember and Pooh Bear fully cosigns, becomes the lingering message of the film. Too often, we become so wrapped up in our mundane responsibilities we lose sight of the very thingsour loved ones, our personal interests and hobbies, the beauty, mystery and profundity of everything around uswhich make life worth living. In once more discovering these things, Christopher opens his eyes to the man he wants to beand the child still living within his soul. "Christopher Robin" delights, yes, but it does one better: it makes the viewer want to be a kinder, better person.