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Christopher Robin movie review: Clunky return to the Hundred Acre Wood will please neither child nor adult

**

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Ewan McGregor and Pooh reunite in the park

Ewan McGregor and Pooh reunite in the park

Ewan McGregor and Pooh reunite in the park

One would like to have been a fly on the wall when the idea for Christopher Robin was first pitched. How the writers must have minced around the Disney boardroom as they explained how Christopher - not AA Milne's real son mind, but the character from his Winnie the Pooh stories - has grown up into a miserable git who crunches numbers at a suitcase company and has no time for his wife and little girl.

Meanwhile, Pooh, Tigger, Piglet and Owl wander the Hundred Acre Wood like those scruffy old guys from Waiting for Godot, mired in existential gloom as they wonder why young Master Robin has forsaken them. But moods will lift when the honey-obsessed bear wanders through a wormhole to 1940s London to remind Christopher of a gentler, kinder life. 'Sounds great!' some enthused executive must have shouted. Only on reflection, it doesn't.

Leading a production that seems oddly unsure of itself from the very start is Ewan McGregor, who plays the grown-up, miserablist Christopher Robin. In the film's opening scene, we watch the young Christopher say a fond farewell to his imaginary childhood buddies as he leaves the Hundred Acre Wood and Sussex for a spell at a stern boarding school. That seems to knock the nonsense out of him, because when we next meet him he's trudging off to work at Winslow Luggages, a dreary family-run firm where he heads up the 'efficiency department' - the very title makes you yearn to fall into a deep sleep that will end as this film's credits roll.

When his immediate boss Giles Winslow Jr (a pleasingly hammy Mark Gatiss) tells Christopher that slashing cuts must be made at his department, he's given the weekend to come up with a plan.

 

This means cancelling a family trip to the old cottage at the Hundred Acre Wood with his wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and daughter Madeleine (Bronte Carmichael), but work is work he tells them, as they head out the door muttering darkly. Alone in London, Christopher is returning home from work on Saturday night when he hears a daft, familiar voice emanating from the undergrowth in the park beside his house. It's Pooh, large as life and just as full of endearing pseudo-philosophical nonsense.

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Look, Pooh’s talking: Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore and Tigger at the beach

Look, Pooh’s talking: Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore and Tigger at the beach

Look, Pooh’s talking: Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore and Tigger at the beach

While Christopher, his family and work colleagues are all smoggy-looking postwar Londoners, Pooh and his friends (rather antiseptically rendered in Cgi) sound just like the American-accented creatures in the classic Disney animation. As they must, given the provenance of this production, but the effect is jarring: not half so jarring, though, as the unwarranted intrusion of angst and what looked to me suspiciously like midlife crisis depression into a previously magical, child-like world.

What is wrong with this Christopher Robin? How can the sunny and supremely imaginative little boy from the stories have turned into this glass-half-empty sad sack? And how, while we're at it, has he failed to notice that his wife is staggeringly beautiful?

At least last year's thematically related Goodbye Christopher Robin, though rather dull also, had a clear aim and told the coherent story of the real Christopher Robin Milne and the cruel indifference of his self-absorbed parents. This film doesn't know what it's at, and in trying to connect the mutually exclusive worlds of childhood and adulthood, falls with a heavy thud between those two stools.

Perhaps the hardest thing to figure out about Christopher Robin is who the hell it's supposed to be aimed at. Too miserable for kids, too whimsical for adults, it occupies a strange cinematic wasteland where punters will surely be in short supply. It doesn't even manage to sustain its own internal logic and careers about wildly in terms of tone. It's as if Peppa Pig had been adapted for the screen by Ionesco.

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I'm not going to bring my little boy to this! He'll have nightmares about his superannuated teddy shuffling down skid row nursing a bottle in a brown paper bag and wondering why his perfidious owner abandoned him.

Christopher Robin (G, 104mins) - 2 stars

Films coming soon...

BlacKkKlansman (Adam Driver, John David Washington); The Children Act (Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Fionn Whitehead); Alpha (Kodi Smit-McPhee, Leonor Varela, Jens Hulten); The Spy Who Dumped Me (Mila Kunis, Kate McKinnon).


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