Disney has a responsibility to Winnie the Pooh that extends beyond licensing agreements and mere commerce.
Wherever A.A. Milne’s books still stand within the kid lit universe, Disney gave Pooh a voice, and the childish, gently daft and very English tone of its many cartoons fixed Pooh in the minds of generations.
So moving Pooh into the “real” world, the “adult” world, by making him a tactile, real walking-talking, honey-craving bear proves to be tricky in “Christopher Robin,” a mopey, downbeat “rediscover my inner child” ode to the grown up boy who inspired the Pooh stories.
It’s a fantasy that has nothing at all to do with the real Christopher Robin Milne.
Still, you can’t make a Pooh movie without at least a hint of the Sherman Brothers’ “Winnie the Pooh” song, without him sounding like the late Sterling Holloway, who voiced him in the earliest cartoons.
But no longer drawn, “real,” with an inexpressive plush face and entirely too much faux fur? Well, as the bear might put it, “Weeds are flowers, too, once you get to know them.”
Ewan McGregor is the harried, workaholic Christopher Robin, ignoring wife (Hayley Atwell) and little girl Madeleine (Bronte Carmichael) as he struggles to find “efficiencies” at Winslow Fine Luggage, an upscale firm finding it hard to serve the well-to-do in austere, post-War Great Britain.
When he neglects to join the family for a weekend at the Sussex farm where he grew up, the bear stirs. A gloomy fog has descended over The Hundred Acre Wood.
“If only Eeyore were here to enjoy it.”
Pooh frets over where the Old Gang might be. So he sets out to find Christopher Robin, stumbling upon him in a London park.
The businessman, with his attache filled with “very important things” (papers), figures he has at long last snapped.
“Stress,” he says, on imagining that he sees and hears his childhood toy-pal talk.
“Not ‘Stress,’ Pooh,” insists the bear, who recognizes him even in his “wrinkly” middle age.
They return to the Hundred Acres and fall into their old roles without so much as a second thought — Pooh sighing, puzzled at anything beyond honey, naps, friends and adventure, Christopher Robin explaining the world — “There’s more to life than balloons and honey!” — fixing Pooh’s problems, tracking down Eeyore, Piglet, Owl and Rabbit, Kanga and baby Roo.
But is it “Always a sunny day when Christopher Robin comes to play?”
Sadly, no. Director Marc Forster is over a decade removed from “Finding Neverland,” and whatever the “World War Z” filmmaker might have brought to a production that relies on CG toys in a photo-real world, the light touch was not one of them.
It’s a quietly dispiriting film, keeping the viewer on tenterhooks, watching a grey and exhausted domestic melodrama play out while groping for some recognizable Pooh tune, Pooh mischief or Eeyore complaint to grab hold of.
“Looks like a disaster,” the sad old plush donkey says, surveying Rabbit’s crashed home. “Why wasn’t I invited?”
McGregor gamely tries to fit in here, but there’s little whimsy in the character or his performance of him.
Jim Cummings has made a career out of sounding like Pooh’s Holloway and original Tigger voice Paul Winchell. Brad Garrett of “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Finding Nemo” is an apt voice for Eeyore, Toby Jones a good choice for Owl and Peter Capaldi a daring one for Rabbit.
But the laughs, what precious few there are, and the obvious but Pooh-appropriate theme (Make time to play.) are strictly of the lowest low-hanging fruit variety — Pooh making a mess with honey, Pooh unable to fathom the mysteries of a compass.
The adult stuff won’t do much for adults or children, and the childish moments don’t add up to a kid-movie’s worth.
I can’t find it in me to hate on the little big screen bear. But the whole affair feels like a desperate, big-budget response to last year’s far superior and non-Disney “Goodbye, Christopher Robin.”
Protect the brand and all, you know. One can’t help but wish they’d honored that brand by simply saying, “Nicely done” to the earlier film, and left it at that.
MPAA Rating: PG for some action
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael
Credits:Directed by Marc Forster, script by Alex Ross Perry, Tom McCarthy and Allison Schroeder, based on the A.A.Milne/Ernest Shepard characters . A Walt Disney release.
Running time: 1:44