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'Christopher Robin' review: Charming, though not airtight, new take on A.A. Milne's characters

Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) and his longtime friend

Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) and his longtime friend Winnie the Pooh walk down the street in London in "Christopher Robin." Credit: Walt Disney Pictures/Laurie Sparham

PLOT The hero of A.A. Milne’s books, now grown, rediscovers his childhood friends.

CAST Ewan McGregor, Haley Atwell, Jim Cummings

RATED PG (slightly spooky moments)

LENGTH 1:44

BOTTOM LINE Nicely crafted and occasionally touching, but a patchy plot and a heavy hand keep this movie from reaching true heartwarmer status.

There’s a sense of reclamation in Disney’s “Christopher Robin.” Disney has long been the overseer of A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh character and his friends — what today we would call the Pooh Universe — but Fox Searchlight last year horned in with “Goodbye Christopher Robin,” a biopic of Milne and his only son and greatest literary inspiration. Disney’s “Christopher Robin” tells a different story — this one entirely fictional. In fact, it wipes away the very existence of Milne and his literary legacy.

Ewan McGregor plays Christopher, last name Robin, a workaholic executive at a London luggage company who long ago put away Pooh and other childish things. As work threatens to alienate Christopher from his family — Hayley Atwell as his wife, Evelyn, and Bronte Carmichael as their 9-year-old daughter, Madeline — Pooh arrives to bring Christopher back to the Hundred Acre Wood and remind him of the importance of play, pleasure and “doing nothing.”

It sort of works. McGregor is quite fine as Christopher — a brolly-toting businessman in the mold of Mr. Banks, from “Mary Poppins” — especially given that he’s mostly acting opposite such CGI creatures as Eeyore (the voice of Brad Garrett), Piglet (Nick Mohammed) and Rabbit (Peter Capaldi). The real star here is Jim Cummings, now the 30-year voice of Pooh. Though he’s still mimicking Sterling Holloway — the Pooh for nearly 30 years before him — Cummings has a tenderness and sensitivity all his own.

The script, by Alex Ross Perry and several others, is a meandering thing that sometimes feels as befuddled as Pooh himself. The story takes a long time to get cranking, and the rules of its magical world aren’t airtight (Pooh and the other stuffed animals are alive enough to scare London cabbies, but also seem inert at crucial moments). There is also, it must be said, something very odd about a world in which nobody immediately recognizes Winnie-the-Pooh.

Still, Marc Forster (2004’s “Finding Neverland”) directs with confidence and makes excellent use of Matthias Koenigswieser’s poignant cinematography and a very pretty score by Geoff Zanelli and Jon Brion. (There are three new songs by Disney legend Richard M. Sherman, though two are in the end credits and the other, “Goodbye Farewell,” is more a ditty than a full-fledged number.) “Christopher Robin” may not fully move you to tears, but its fuzzy heart is in the right place.

The unpredictable one

The title role of Disney’s “Christopher Robin” is just the latest for Ewan McGregor, the Scottish actor whose career has zigzagged between offbeat fare and box-office hits. Here are four more movies from his unpredictable back catalog:

TRAINSPOTTING (1996) After appearing in Danny Boyle’s edgy 1994 comedy “Shallow Grave,” McGregor rejoined the director for this comedy-drama about heroin addicts running amok in Edinburgh. The film became an alt-culture landmark and launched McGregor’s acting career in earnest.

STAR WARS: EPISODE 1 — THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999) The first of George Lucas’ “Star Wars” prequel trilogy starred McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi, a role originated by no less a thespian than Alec Guinness. For the most part, McGregor survived these polarizing movies unscathed as fans and critics piled onto Jar-Jar Binks and other missteps.

MOULIN ROUGE! (2001) McGregor played a Bohemian poet who falls for a cabaret performer (Nicole Kidman) in Baz Luhrmann’s musically and aesthetically omnivorous spectacle. It’s still one of McGregor’s biggest hits, with $179.2 million worldwide.

AMERICAN PASTORAL (2016) In adapting one of Philip Roth’s most celebrated novels for his directorial debut — and playing the lead role — McGregor may have bitten off more than he could chew. It was a gutsy choice, though, and McGregor got solid performances out of Dakota Fanning and Jennifer Connelly.

— Rafer Guzmán

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