Film Review: Winnie the Pooh Can’t Quite Save a Dreary “Christopher Robin”

Film poster: “Christopher Robin”

Christopher Robin (Marc Forster, 2018) 2 out of 4 stars.

Just last October (2017), we saw the release of director Simon Curtis’ Goodbye Christopher Robin, an affecting – if largely fabricated – biopic about the real-life boy at the center of author A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh adventures. Though there was not much “docu” in that docudrama, it was well-acted and frequently well-scripted, if not always gripping. Still, it mostly held one’s interest.

Bewilderingly, less than a year later we now have the similarly titled Christopher Robin, from director Marc Forster (World War Z) and the many folks at Disney. With three different credited screenwriters – Alex Ross Perry (Golden Exits), Tom McCarthy (Spotlight) and Allison Schroeder (Hidden Figures) – shaping a story by Greg Brooker (Stuart Little) and Mark Steven Johnson (Ghost Rider), it’s not only the title that confuses. So many chefs stirring the creative pot – no matter their individual talent – has created a murky stew that now and then delivers tasty goods, but all too often congeals into hardened slop like the poorly mixed concoction that it is. If you like a film where everyone repeats the central, expositional message – work less, play more – ad nauseum, then this might work better for you then it did for me.

Unlike its immediate predecessor, however, this movie does not purport to be anything but fantasy. From the titular subject’s magical 1930s childhood we jump to his dreary 1950s professional career, from which no amount of professed concern for wife and daughter can rescue him. Christopher Robin’s workaholism threatens to destroy his marriage and his own child’s wilting youth, until a spilled pot of honey summons the playmates of his past to turn things around. Combining CGI and live-action sequences, the movie comes alive once Pooh, Eyore, Tigger, Piglet and friends join forces to liven up the proceedings. Sadly, by the time they show up, Forster and company have so mired us in gloom that we would need far more enchantment than we get to return the film to some form of dramatic equilibrium. It’s not a total loss – and fans of the books should find plenty to enjoy – but it’s far from great, and quite dense, plot-wise, for a supposed kids movie.

Ewan McGregor as Christopher Robin and Jim Cummings as the voice of Pooh in CHRISTOPHER ROBIN ©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

As Christopher Robin, Ewan McGregor (T2 Trainspotting) is his usual appealing self, for what it’s worth. Hayley Atwell (Jimi: All Is by My Side) gets the thankless role of Evelyn, his nag . . . I mean, his wife, while young newcomer Bronte Carmichael has a slightly better time of it as Madeline, his daughter. Voice actor Jim Cummings reprises his long-running turn as Pooh (begun in 1988, for Disney’s four-season The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh), also voicing Tigger here, supported by the likes of Sophie Okonedo (After Earth) and Brad Garrett (Robert on CBS’ nine-season Everybody Loves Raymond), among others. Sometimes cute, often tedious, and only occasionally deft in its storytelling, Christopher Robin would have probably come out better with just one script-cook in its cinematic kitchen.

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About chrisreedfilm

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is lead film critic at hammertonail.com, an online magazine devoted to independent cinema; a regular film critic here at filmfestivaltoday.com; the host of Dragon Digital Media’s award-winning "Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed"; a film commentator for the "Roughly Speaking” podcast with Dan Rodricks at "The Baltimore Sun"; and the author of "Film Editing: Theory and Practice." In addition, he is one of three co-creators, along with Summre Garber of Slamdance and Bart Weiss of Dallas VideoFest, of "The Fog of Truth" (fogoftruth.com) – available on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher – a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.
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