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With: Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael, Mark Gatiss, Jim Cummings (voice), Brad Garrett (voice), Nick Mohammed (voice), Toby Jones (voice), Peter Capaldi (voice), Sophie Okonedo (voice), Sara Sheen (voice)
Written by: Alex Ross Perry, Tom McCarthy, Allison Schroeder, based on a story by Greg Brooker, Mark Steven Johnson, and on characters created by A.A. Milne, Ernest Shepard
Directed by: Marc Forster
MPAA Rating: PG for some action
Running Time: 104
Date: 08/03/2018

Christopher Robin (2018)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Oh, Bother

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Winnie-the-Pooh books, written by A. A. Milne, illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard, and published during the 1920s, contain a special kind of calm magic, a sort of childlike, yet infinite, fount of wisdom and wonder.

The new movie Christopher Robin, on the other hand, is a tonal hodgepodge, with a few moments of delight (mainly direct quotes from the books), but also a lot of nervous anguish and dumb slapstick.

Opening Friday in Bay Area theaters, Christopher Robin is a curious concoction, perhaps inspired by someone wondering: what would happen if the human hero of the Pooh stories outgrew his toys?

There wasn't much wondering after that point. Despite five screenwriters — a list that includes indie darling Alex Ross Perry (Listen Up Philip), Oscar winner Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, Spotlight), and Oscar nominee Allison Schroeder (Hidden Figures) — the movie can't ever land on a reasonable idea, save for the usual kids' movie message: "family is more important than work."

It begins with a long prologue, showing Christopher (Ewan McGregor, trying his best), growing up, going to boarding school, starting a family (marrying Hayley Atwell, who has nothing to do for the rest of the film), fighting in WWII, and getting a job in a suitcase company.

He becomes fastidious and uptight, with no time for things like "imagination" or "fun," not even with his daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael).

At work, he is forced to make cuts — possibly laying off several co-workers — to keep the company afloat, and must cancel a family weekend to stay behind and figure it out.

Meanwhile, Pooh (voiced, delightfully, and as always, by Jim Cummings), wakes up on a foggy day and finds his friends all gone. Looking for help, he winds up in London, where an annoyed, inconvenienced Christopher must take him back to the Hundred Acre Wood.

As Christopher reunites with Piglet (voiced by Nick Mohammed), Tigger (also Cummings), Eeyore (voiced by Brad Garrett), Kanga (voiced by Sophie Okonedo), Roo (voiced by Sara Sheen), Owl (voiced by Toby Jones), and Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), his reactions to them swing all over the place. He's sometimes pleased, sometimes agitated, and the tone is generally one of rushed tension.

The movie's rules for the animals, irritatingly, is that they can talk, and other humans can see and hear them talk, but the reaction is always shock and terror. This joke, both trying to hide the animals in public and their eventual revealing, is repeated frequently, always to deadening effect.

Finally, Madeline and Pooh, Piglet, Eyeore, and Tigger must race to get a folder full of important papers back to Christopher before his all-important Monday morning meeting.

This involves, car chases, characters splatted against windshields, things knocked over in the street, astonished passerby, etc. None of this stuff was ever in the books, nor was it in any of the hand-drawn Disney animated features.

One can unfavorably compare Christopher Robin to either 1977's The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh, which was a fun collection of previously-released short films, or the all-new, charming 2011 Winnie-the-Pooh, but it also pales in comparison to gentle, lovable things like Babe, Paddington and Paddington 2 or Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are.

And the theme of outgrowing one's toys was covered far more poignantly in Pixar's Inside Out and its Toy Story films.

A major problem is that director Marc Forster has never shown any sense of wonder or whimsy anywhere in his wildly inconsistent filmography, which ranges from an excruciating drama about sudden infant death syndrome to the clunky, dull World War Z. The only thing that comes close is 2004's Finding Neverland, a clumsy, but Oscar-friendly attempt to tell the story of Peter Pan's creator.

Christopher Robin completely misses the point. In trying to rescue its hero from his own seriousness, the film itself is too busy. It hasn't the faintest idea how to play.

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