As Disney has proven time and again, if you run out of ideas for movies, all you need to do is dust off an old animated classic and re-do it as a live-action film, and—presto!—you’re off and running. Fortunately this not-so-startling lack of originality has paid off for the most part, giving us great films like the Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland in 2011, Maleficent in 2014, Cinderella in 2015, and The Jungle Book in 2016.
Of course, along with the good comes the occasionally not-so-good, like last year’s Beauty and the Beast and 2016’s Pete’s Dragon, which left me at least slightly trepidatious heading into Marc Forster’s Christopher Robin.
Starring Ewan McGregor as the adult version of the famous titular lad, the film will, on the surface, draw quick comparisons to StudioCanal’s Paddington franchise. Like those, Christopher Robin is a kid-friendly, cute-as-a-button flick with a couple heartstring moments and life lessons tossed in for good measure. And leading the way is a CGI silly old bear, who causes mischief before finally helping the humans see life as it should be.
After a prologue that has the Hundred Acre Wood gang bidding farewell to Christopher as he heads off to boarding school, we flash-forward through his life; his father dies, he meets wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell), has daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael), heads off to war, and then returns to an all-consuming job as a manager at Winslow Luggage in London. He’s all work and no play, and the company is facing tough times; Christopher has to come up with a 20% leaner budget, and he only has a weekend in which to do it.
Meanwhile Pooh (voiced, as always, by the excellent Jim Cummings) is wandering around one day, pondering where his friends have run off to, when he decides to visit the old tree that Christopher used for traveling back and forth from the Wood, and when he goes through the door, he finds himself in London, right outside his old friend’s office. Eventually Christopher gets Pooh back to the Hundred Acre Wood, but when Christopher travels back to the real world, he accidentally leaves his briefcase behind—prompting Pooh, Tigger (Cummings), Piglet (Nick Mohammed), and Eeyore (Brad Garrett) to race back to London to return it. Cue the kid-friendly mayhem.
Forster (Finding Neverland) injects Christopher Robin with plenty of magic and wonder, along with just the right amount of silliness to delight youngsters and their parents alike. The screenplay—which Tom McCarthy (Oscar-winner for 2015’s Spotlight) and Allison Schroeder (Hidden Figures) revised from Alex Ross Perry’s original draft—is sweet and charming without being overly sappy, and McGregor and Atwell add plenty of sparkle. It’s the voice cast, though—which also includes Toby Jones as Owl and Peter Capaldi as Rabbit—that really gives Christopher Robin its life.
The film is as pleasant and fun as they come and is a welcome addition to the Disney oeuvre. And it will surely hold the young (and young at heart) over until the studio’s next live-action remake comes along… which, as it turns out, is set for March of next year, when Tim Burton’s Dumbo hits theaters. And then there’s Aladdin in May. And The Lion King in July. And Mulan in 2020.
No, Disney may not get points for originality, but they’ve certainly proven they know how to get everything they can from the magic they’ve already created.