Despite a similar title, “Christopher Robin” is in no way to be confused with “Goodbye Christopher Robin,” last fall’s soberly fact-based drama about the relationship between “Winnie-the-Pooh” author A.A. Milne and his son. (Christopher Robin Milne, as you may remember, was the inspiration for the famous stuffed bear’s human companion, a small British boy called Christopher Robin.)
The title character of Disney’s gently charming new live-action/CGI hybrid, played by an earnest and winsome Ewan McGregor, is a grown-up version of Pooh’s entirely fictional Christopher Robin, now a married father of one who works for a London luggage manufacturer. He’s disaffected, it seems: in his job, in his marriage to Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and in his relationship with his young daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael).
Disaffected, that is, until Pooh shows up in post-World War II London one day, via a Narnia-like portal in the base of a hollow tree, to remind Christopher about Just What Really Matters in Life. (Purists may be mildly irked to learn that “Robin” has somehow become Christopher’s last name, rather than his middle name. But that’s Disney for you. In terms of source material, “Christopher Robin” at times shows more respect for the movie studio’s own zealously guarded franchise, going back to the 1966 short “Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree,” than to Milne’s books of the 1920s.)
But no matter.
“Christopher Robin” is still a sweetly good-natured fable, with winning voice performances by Disney veteran Jim Cummings in the dual roles of Pooh and Tigger, and especially by Brad Garrett as the perpetually gloomy Eeyore (a role that seems made for him). And the movie, directed by Marc Forster from a script by Alex Ross Perry, Tom McCarthy and Allison Schroeder, gets one big thing very right: the Zen-like wisdom of Pooh, who is fond of uttering such things as “I always get to where I’m going by walking away from where I’ve been.” Such koan-esque aphorisms – celebrated in the not entirely tongue-in-cheek 1982 book of philosophy The Tao of Pooh – are sprinkled liberally throughout “Christopher Robin” and are some of the film’s greatest pleasures.
Otherwise, the film is pretty conventional Disney fare: silly, slapsticky, all-too-neatly wrapped up and punctuated by a surfeit of poignant moments, as when Christopher’s childhood stuffed animals – with whom his now-deadened imagination once ran wild – tell him how much they miss him. (All together now: Awww.)
Children will enjoy the bone-rattling chases and pratfalls into puddles of honey, and adults (or at least the sentimentally inclined ones) will get misty-eyed remembering their own lost childhoods.
As teddy bear-based fantasy goes, however, “Christopher Robin” is no “Paddington.” In its journey from hither to yon, the movie takes us to some pretty inane places, ultimately making the argument that Pooh and his friends from the Hundred Acre Wood may have been instrumental in introducing the concept of paid leave to Britain.
Am I overthinking a simple children’s fable? Probably so. As Pooh – a self-described “bear of very little brain” – once noted, too much brain power is not necessarily a good thing. After all, as he once told Piglet, “Rabbit’s clever ... and that’s why he never understands anything.”