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"CHRISTOPHER ROBIN"
(2018) (Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Fantasy: A grown-up Christopher Robin, mired in the pressures of adulthood, is re-taught the value of play and wonder by his childhood friends.
PLOT:
Christopher Robin (EWAN McGREGOR) has fond memories of playing with his childhood pals in the Hundred Acre Wood, which he would travel to through a magic tree portal at his parents' English countryside cottage. Among his old friends were Winnie the Pooh (voice of JIM CUMMINGS); Tigger (also CUMMINGS), the excitable tiger; Eeyore (voice of BRAD GARRETT), the depressed donkey; Piglet (voice of NICK MOHAMMED), the anxious swine; and the frequently squabbling Owl (voice of TOBY JONES) and Rabbit (voice of PETER CAPALDI).

But it's been many years since Christopher was a boy. In that time, he has attended boarding school, grieved the passing of his father, married a kind woman named Evelyn (HAYLEY ATWELL), become a father to precocious Madeline (BRONTE CARMICHAEL), fought in World War II, and obtained work as an efficiency expert at a major British luggage company.

The company, though, has had its struggles turning a profit in post-WWII England. The boss, Giles (MARK GATISS), assigns Christopher the task of cutting 20 percent of the business -- i.e. trimming payroll -- and present the report to the company's chairman, Old Man Winslow (OLIVER FORD DAVIES). Feeling the pressure, consumed with work, and eager to send Madeline to bordering school to prepare her for a career, Christopher has lost his way. Then, Pooh shows up one day in a London park and tells Christopher he needs his help finding all of their old friends, who have gone missing back in the Hundred Acre Wood.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
There's a key moment in Disney's "Christopher Robin" that gave me the feels. I've worked for a variety of publications over the years, and I've seen people come and go from writing, editorial, and production positions. For those who didn't quit but instead were shown the door, the explanation given has almost never been "They were fired" or "They were terminated." The most frequent explanation has been "We had to let him/her go." Oh yeah. Like they'd been holding these people back from leaving all this time. They weren't ousted or sacked or laid off. They were ... let go.

In "Christopher Robin," the title character (played by Ewan McGregor) is no longer the little boy traipsing merrily through author A.A. Milne's Hundred Acre Wood with Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore, and Tigger, too. He is an adult who has moved on from his childhood adventures, gotten married, become a father, survived World War II, and obtained a job as an "efficiency expert" at a British luggage company. But the baggage biz has had a tough time in the post-WWII years, and Christopher's boss (Mark Gatiss) tasks him with cutting 20 percent of the payroll to keep the firm afloat.

Christopher Robin feels the pressure. He has to work all weekend crunching the numbers and, in turn, disappoints his wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael) yet again. They had planned to travel to the Robin family cottage in the English countryside for a Friday-through-Sunday holiday. But instead, Christopher Robin stays behind in London and comes to a point where he struggles with his conscience in a public park. There, he is surprised to discover his old pal Pooh has made the trek through a tree portal to take him back to the Hundred Acre Wood for one more adventure.

Christopher, at first, objects giving the bear the same reasons he has given his family for not having fun with them. Deadlines, commitments, weekend workload. He tells him he has to put together a report and "let a lot of good people go." To which Pooh, in the film's key moment, innocently asks, "Did you let me go?"

It's a beautifully composed, heartfelt moment that will tug at the heartstrings of any grown-up today who can't quite recall what it was like to play in open fields, fly kites, have picnics or tea parties with stuffed animals, or just lie on the ground, look up at the sky, and ... well ... do nothing for an afternoon. It's actually one of many such moments in "Christopher Robin," a really sweet film that delivers smiles, chuckles, knowing head nods, and gentle fun and wisdom.

I don't want to oversell it. So, I am keeping the adjectives and superlatives to words like "sweet" and "gentle," "good-natured" and kind-hearted." It's one of those films that's rated PG, but it's really G. There's no cursing. Almost nothing in the way of violence (save for a brief, non-graphic WWII sequence). And certainly no sex or nudity (er, unless you count Pooh Bear walking around in a crop top and no pants).

And even if this isn't your kind of flick, but you have to see it with the kiddies, it's as handsomely mounted as any period film or costume drama. Director Marc Forster of "Finding Neverland" fame sets much of the film in the late 1940s, and your eyes will just drink in the period detail, costumes, props, locations, and vintage vehicles. The actors all commit to the material, too, and there is some very nice work in the sound booth from long-time Pooh and Tigger voice actor Jim Cummings, along with Brad Garrett (as Eeyore), Toby Jones (as Owl), and Nick Mohammed (as Piglet).

The film comes a bit too close for my tastes to vilifying the working man (or woman). Pooh and the others get on the adult Christopher Robin's case for not having a sense of play anymore and for not taking the time to just do nothing. It's a nice sentiment, of course. But, at the same time, I wouldn't have blamed Christopher Robin had he just lost it on the bear, throttled him, and raged, "Look, Pooh! Do you have a mortgage? A wife? A kid? Forget Heffalumps in the fog, Bear. I got wolves at the door, demanding the taxes ... the electric bill ... the car note. Debt, Pooh! The MasterCard! The Visa! Do you wanna help me? Let's monetize the Hundred Acre Wood! Bulldoze the land and turn it into a mixed-use development with condos, stores, and office space. And get that honey outta my face! Gimme some honey bourbon! Jim Beam honey bourbon whiskey! Because I can't just do nothing all day, Pooh! I can't just--"

Ahem. I digress.

The good news is Forster and his trio of screenwriters bring it all home in the end, with Christopher Robin taking inspiration from the gentle A.A. Milne philosophies and applying them to a business model that he tries to sell to his company's board of directors. Along the way, there are small adventures and misadventures, with some definite inspirations taken from "Hook," "Paddington," and the "Toy Story" movies.

As a working adult, you may not be able to slow down and take the pressure off life as the film urges. But it might make you value those times more when you can. At the very least, despite some slow spots early, this movie will delight your children and the children around you at the movie theater, from the charming opening credits to the classic "The End" ending when the film lets you go. It rates a very solid 6.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed July 31, 2018 / Posted August 3, 2018


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