Every childhood deserves the fuzzy, anthropomorphized magic of an imaginary bear — in books and at the movies, too. But this Pooh, alas, is no Paddington 2.

Maybe you just have to be very small to find the wonder in Marc Forster’s Christopher Robin, a continuation of the classic A.A. Milne characters so carefully crafted and narratively sedate it feels less like a full-fledged story than a lovingly made live-action painting.

Orton O’Brien is young Christopher, frolicking in the Hundred Acre Wood with his furred and feathered friends, though not for long; first boarding school takes him away, then the grim specter of adulthood and the trenches of WWII. Soon he’s a grown and joyless Ewan McGregor, too preoccupied by his job as an efficiency manager at a luggage company to pay much attention to his lovely wife (Hayley Atwell) and lonely daughter (Bronte Carmichael).

Credit: Laurie Sparham/Disney

All his girls wish for is a weekend with him in the countryside; his officious prig of a boss (Sherlock’s Mark Gatiss) prefers that he spend it at home in London working out the math for a budget slash. The city wins, but an accidental conjuring also brings back Winnie the Pooh (voiced with a sort of gently stoned Zen-ness by Jim Cumming, who also takes on the considerably more caffeinated Tigger) — leading Robin back to his lost kingdom of Piglets and Owls, and the life lessons he’s forgotten for too long.

Brad Garrett, as an Eeyore so determinedly grim he makes Nietzsche sound like Tony Robbins, carries the movie’s rare moments of real levity (the rest come mostly via soft, kid-friendly slapstick). The vivid Atwell glows as a woman who just wants the man she married back, and McGregor is game enough, considering he probably spent most of the shoot talking to green dots and golf balls.

But Forster (Finding Neverland, World War Z) never quite finds the alchemy in Milne’s timeless tales, or the melancholy sweetness of his being-and-nothingness koans. Instead it’s just an earnest tribute, tastefully faithful to the source — and flatter, somehow, than the story ever was on the page. B–

Christopher Robin
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