The live-action adventure, starring Ewan McGregor as the grown-up Christopher Robin, is a gentle delight — for children, and for former children. Rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.
As sweet as honey but without the stickiness, “Christopher Robin” is a gentle delight — for children, and for former children. Like “Paddington 2” earlier this year, and like “Mary Poppins” and so many other movies before it, it takes place in a magical version of England. After a brief prologue in which young Christopher Robin says goodbye to his beloved stuffed animals — he’s off to boarding school — we zip away from the original time period of the A.A. Milne Winnie-the-Pooh books, and to a grown-up Christopher (Ewan McGregor), a remote husband and father who’s found that life in midcentury London is somewhat more stressful than in the 100 Acre Wood.
Admittedly, this doesn’t sound promising; haven’t we all seen too many movies in which a wound-too-tight guy learns to connect with what matters? But “Christopher Robin” has an ingredient those other movies lacked: an array of cuddly stuffed animals (all looking slightly grubby, as if they’ve been well-loved) who act as philosophers, wits and bouncy distractions. Pooh, by means best left vague, is transported from the 100 Acre Wood to Christopher’s London townhouse, where he wreaks both emotional and honey-related havoc for his old friend. (The city, reports Pooh, is “very loud, and not in a hummy way.”) Soon, Christopher’s 9-year-old daughter, Madeline (Bronte Carmichael), gets pulled into the mix, and after some merry chases, everything gets nicely sorted out by teatime.
If you grew up with Pooh and his friends (and a lot of us did), you’ll find much to smile at: Pooh doing his Stoutness Exercises; Tigger’s charmingly maniacal grin and springy bouncing; shy Piglet’s wee scarf; Eeyore’s perpetual grumpiness. Jim Cummings, who’s been voicing Pooh and Tigger for decades, finds the perfect warm rasp for the former and breathless zing for the latter. And the 100 Acre Wood, shown with occasional cuts to E.H. Shepard’s original drawings, remains a place of magic, with twisty haycorn-strewn trees and a stream just right for Poohsticks.
But director Marc Forster (“Finding Neverland,” “The Kite Runner”) makes “Christopher Robin” more than an exercise in nostalgia. It’s both an enchanting technical achievement (after this, kids may well be eyeing their stuffed animals quite differently, waiting to catch them in motion), and a reminder of the value of having a place to visit —whether real or imaginary — where we can be ourselves, without fear or worry, letting the world fall away. Late in the film, two friends sit on a log in the forest, companionably sharing a pot of honey in as perfect a picture of contentment as you can imagine. Turns out I’d been missing the 100 Acre Wood. What a pleasure it was to visit it again.
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★★★½ “Christopher Robin,” with Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael, Mark Gattis, and the voices of Jim Cummings, Brad Garrett, Nick Mohammed, Jim Cummings, Peter Capaldi, Sophie Okonedo, Toby Jones. Directed by Marc Forster, from a screenplay by Alex Ross Perry, Tom McCarthy and Allison Schroeder, based on characters created by A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard. 104 minutes. Rated PG for some action. Opens Aug. 3 at multiple theaters.