Only a few months ago we had a rather morose film called Goodbye Christopher Robin, about the tortured childhood of the real boy whose imaginary friends inspired AA Milne to come up with Winnie the Pooh.
Now comes more honeyed version, in which Ewan McGregor plays an adult Mr Robin, working for a London luggage company in post-War London and married to the comely Hayley Atwell but overworked so much that he can’t spend any time with her or their serious-looking, 9-year-old daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael).
Just as Christopher Robin comes under yet another work deadline at the office, his childhood friend Winnie the Pooh appears to remind him of all that’s fun and playful in the world and to whisk him back – via a portal in an oak tree in an Islington square – to the Hundred Acre wood to reconnect with Tigger, Eyeore, Piglet et al.
It’s a twinkling fantasy, beautifully designed and executed, and the cuddly toys come sumptuously and charmingly to life, with Pooh on typically Taoist form with his one-liners that melt adult Christopher’s frozen heart. “There’s more to life than balloons and honey,” exclaims exasperated Robin. “Are you sure?” deadpans back Pooh.
What with the success of Paddington, there’s clearly an appetite for cuddlesome and furry friends on the London streets and, while this Disney offering doesn’t match the Paddington movies for invention or fun, it has some excellent moments, including a car chase around the City, an amusing sequence of Pooh talking to people at the train station, and a very cute train ride in which Madeline serves the animals tea.
It’s a film about remembering childhood – a Disney honeytrap if ever there were – and it’s probably aimed more at adult males than children and Pooh fans, although they’re very careful to ensure the characters and merchandise do get handed down to another generation here.
Marc Forster is the director, who did a similar job with Johnny Depp as J M Barrie in Finding Neverland many years ago and, although he’s since helmed the least charming Bond movie A Quantum of Solace, he seems to have recaptured a bit of sweet sentimentality here. Which is, after all, this film’s message.
The stern adult finding a sense of fun again through child’s play is a well-worn Hollywood plot – used mostly in Christmas movies, such as Elf – but it’s taken for a fresh spin in Christopher Robin, with McGregor at his everyman best when delivering lines like: “Silly old bear,” and gamely chasing away Heffalumps and Woozles. For a story about a bear of very little brain, it’s a film of surprisingly big heart … and large dollops of honey.