Ewan McGregor is Christopher Robin in Winnie-the-Pooh sequel
CHRISTOPHER ROBIN (PG, 104 mins) Fantasy/Drama/Comedy/Romance.
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael, Mark Gatiss, Oliver Ford Davies and the voices of Jim Cummings, Brad Garrett, Nick Mohammed, Peter Capaldi, Sophie Okonedo, Sarah Sheen, Toby Jones.
Director: Marc Forster
Rating: 3 stars
TOWARDS the conclusion of Marc Forster's fantasy, Winnie-the-Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings) stares adoringly at a grown-up Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor), who has forgotten the joy of his childhood spent romping around the Hundred Acre Wood.
"It's always a sunny day when Christopher Robin comes to play," coos the honey-guzzling bear.
Alas, that sunshine doesn't always penetrate the rain clouds that linger over this cinematic namesake, which shamelessly milks our affection for beloved characters created by AA Milne and EH Shepard.
Credited to three screenwriters, Christopher Robin relies heavily on the quirks and naive charm of Pooh and his companions, who are convincingly brought to life through digital trickery.
A briskly paced opening section documents Christopher's formative years by flicking through the pages of a book – Chapter 2: In which Christopher Robin hears very sad news – which are laden with the bear's mantras for a contented life.
"Doing nothing often leads to the very best of something," philosophises Pooh.
Forster's film does very little and this leads to occasional laughs, teary confessions and a central message about cherishing time spent with loved ones.
Last year's film Goodbye Christopher Robin focused on the post-traumatic stress endured by Milne (played by Domhnall Gleeson) when he returned to London from the trenches of the Great War and a fractious relationship with his son.
Christopher Robin skips forward in time to the late 1940s.
The titular father (McGregor) is a workaholic efficiency manager in the luggage division of Winslow Enterprises run by Old Man Winslow (Oliver Ford Davies) and his slippery son Giles (Mark Gatiss).
Times are tough and Winslow Jr orders Christopher to deliver 20 per cent cuts across his team in time for a board presentation on Monday morning.
"If this ship goes down, you need to ask yourself. Am I a swimmer or a sinker?" snarls Giles.
Christopher cancels a weekend in the country with his neglected wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and young daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael) to concentrate on balance sheets.
Magically, Pooh materialises in London and convinces Christopher to return to the Hundred Acre Wood to track down Eeyore (Brad Garrett), Piglet (Nick Mohammed), Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), Kanga (Sophie Okonedo), Roo (Sarah Sheen) and Owl (Toby Jones).
Christopher Robin shoots for the same sweet nostalgia as Paddington but lacks the heart and soul of that marmalade-smeared adventure.
Gentle laughs punctuate the soul-searching, like when Christopher picks up Eeyore so they can walk faster and the donkey deadpans, "It's kind of you to kidnap me."
The picture's ponderous middle section meanders rather like the little bear on one of his quests for golden honey.
An emotionally manipulative final act, hung on an action set-piece in post-wartime London, is signposted as clearly as the fearsome Heffalumps and Woozles.