“Christopher Robin,” the first live-action film in the “Winnie the Pooh” franchise is now in theaters. Starring Ewan McGregor (Christopher Robin), Hayley Atwell (Evelyn Robin) and Bronte Carmichael (Madeline Robin) in the primary human roles, the film features voice acting from Jim Cummings (Winnie the Pooh, Tigger), Brad Garrett (Eeyore), Nick Mohammed (Piglet), Peter Capaldi (Rabbit), Sophie Okonedo (Kanga), Sarah Sheen (Roo) and Toby Jones (Owl). The film is a charming return to the Hundred Acre Wood, featuring characters and adventures that will inspire glee in small children and nostalgia in adults.
“Christopher Robin” opens on a gathering of the animals of the Hundred Acre Wood as they prepare to say goodbye and send Christopher Robin to boarding school. Pooh and Christopher spend the day doing nothing at all and discussing all of the great possibilities of nothing. When Christopher goes back through the tree to his home, he goes to boarding school, grows up, marries Evelyn, has a daughter and goes to war. Years later, he works for a luggage company and has allowed his work to steal his wonder at simply doing nothing. After sending his wife and daughter, Madeline, off on a weekend trip without him, Christopher Robin stumbles upon a bear from his past. Having stumbled into London from the Hundred Acre Wood, Pooh needs Christopher Robin to help him return home and find his friends.
This film, though it takes a while to get there, is very joyful. The tears are front loaded in the first act, so for those who wonder if a Winnie the Pooh movie with a grown up Christopher Robin will be kind of a downer, at the beginning it is. But as Christopher and Pooh travel back to the Hundred Acre Wood and search for Tigger, Eeyore, Piglet and their other friends, the tone of the film lightens up and returns to the pure humor and warmth of the familiar characters. Jim Cummings, who has voiced Pooh and Tigger since the 1980s makes the new take on the world feel familiar and like a natural extension of the animated features before it. New voices to the series, particularly Brad Garret as Eeyore and Nick Mohammed as Piglet, bring a new kind of humor to the characters, creating a charming blend of ironic quips with pure commentary.
Audiences might have mixed feelings about the visual effects of the movie. From pre-release materials, I was dubious about the use of hyperrealistic figures for Pooh and friends, especially given the mixed bag of combining live-action human with CGI creatures. In the actual film, the effects work quite well, even for Tigger, whose movements and energy set him apart from the rest. The film also features a subtle, but delightful score that incorporates riffs of the classic songs from the animated features.
Though “Christopher Robin” has obvious charm and appeal for young children, the themes of the movie are more relevant to slightly older audiences. The movie’s strongest asset is its use of nostalgia, whimsy and wistfulness to compel audiences of all ages to consider how they could fill more of their time doing nothing at all.