“CHRISTOPHER ROBIN” — 2½ stars — Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael, Mark Gatiss, voice of Jim Cummings; PG (some action); in general release
Hot on the tails of last year’s biographical “Goodbye Christopher Robin,” Disney has delivered “Christopher Robin,” which feels much like a sister project. But in spite of a strong cast and some appropriate charm, Marc Forster’s film may struggle to connect with a general audience.
Bringing to life the characters from A.A. Milne’s “Winnie-the-Pooh“ books, “Christopher Robin” imagines a world where the titular character is all grown up and at risk of forgetting the lessons of his youth.
A brief prologue provides a glimpse of Christopher Robin's happy childhood playing in the Hundred Acre Wood with Pooh and Co. before being sent off to boarding school, military service and, eventually, full adulthood.
We meet Christopher (Ewan McGregor) as a grown man, with a loving wife named Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and a young daughter named Madeline (Bronte Carmichael), who’s just about the same age he was when he left for school.
Christopher works as an efficiency manager for Winslow Enterprises, a struggling London luggage company. His demanding boss, Giles Winslow (Mark Gatiss), is a poster child for nepotism — the kind of taskmaster who makes his employees work weekends in the name of loyalty, even if his own work ethic fails to match the same standard.
Continued long hours have put a strain on Christopher's family, and tensions come to a head when his boss forces him to skip a family trip to their Sussex cottage. It’s here, as Christopher sits on a park bench trying to figure out how to cut 20 percent of his production budget, that an old friend arrives with his own problem: Pooh has lost all his friends. Reluctantly, Christopher is recruited to the cause and pulled into an adventure that eventually ties all his challenges together.
Fans of the books will be pleased to see Pooh (Jim Cummings) and a familiar cast that includes Piglet (Nick Mohammed), Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), Owl (Toby Jones) and Tigger (also voiced by Cummings). Eeyore (Brad Garrett) probably gets the most screen time aside from Pooh, and his trademark gloomy comments are frequent punchlines.
Unlike “Goodbye Christopher Robin,” Forster’s film takes place in the imagined world of the Milne books, but both mine similar themes of balancing family relationships against the demands of career. “Christopher Robin” may feature playful animated animals (masterfully blended into a live-action environment), but its message, which connects Christopher's adult plight to wistful Pooh-isms such as “doing nothing leads to the very best something,” feels aimed at a more mature audience.
It’s a good-hearted message, but it feels routine in a film that struggles to appeal to a pair of distinct audiences. As a narrative, “Christopher Robin” struggles to get off the ground and persists in a dreary, melancholy tone — enhanced by a desaturated old-timey color palate — that literally pales next to most children’s fare. At times, it feels the film has been produced exclusively from Eeyore’s perspective.
Things pick up considerably for an energetic third act, but at least for the kids, that may be too little too late for a film that feels most appropriate for an adult audience. In some ways, “Christopher Robin” might be better suited for a night out for Mom and Dad rather than a Saturday afternoon with the whole family, but it’s doubtful that’s what Disney is hoping for.
“Christopher Robin” is rated PG for some action; running time: 104 minutes.