It's unlikely McGregor will follow Leo's path to award season glory this year, but Winnie the Pooh doesn't lead him astray for the runtime of Christopher Robin, a sentimental movie that probably doesn't need to exist but still works hard to keep you entertained. Opening with a montage that's likely to draw tears, we see young Christopher enjoying a final meal with his imaginary pals before he sets out for an adolescence defined by tragedy (his father dies) and drudgery (he goes to boarding school). From there, the boy becomes a soldier and serves in WWII, a detail plucked from the biography of the real-life Christopher Robin Milne, Milne's son who inspired the character.
After the war, Christopher meets his wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell), gets a job as a middle-manager at a luggage company in London, and attempts to be a kind, caring father to his studious young daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael). In a twist clearly meant to strike pangs of regret in the hearts of parents and other older audience members, Christopher has become obsessed with "efficiency" at the expense of more Pooh-ish values like joy, curiosity, and slovenliness. He works late, ditches his family on a trip to the cottage, and is getting ready to send his own sweet child to boarding school. To put it in the parlance of current times, Christopher Robin is washed -- and it's up to Pooh and friends to remind him of his old self.
The film's five credited writers-- which include indie auteur Alex Ross Perry, Oscar-winner Tom McCarthy, and Hidden Figures scribe Allison Schroeder -- are riffing on both the larger mythology of Milne's work and elements of his son's life. The "real" Christopher Robin was not visited by his old toys. If you're looking for a more straightforward chronicle of the Milne family, Goodbye Christopher Robin, a biopic starring Alex Lawther, Domhnall Gleeson, and Margot Robbie, was released last year and apparently covers the family's struggles in greater detail.
Christopher Robin director Marc Forster crafted a similar nostalgia-soaked literary origin story for J.M. Barrie in 2004's Johnny Depp vehicle Finding Neverland, but he has a more whimsical task of blending fantasy and reality here. It ends up being a tougher acorn to crack. How do you balance the free-wheeling innocence of kid-dom and the unceasing demands of adulthood? Can you bounce, Tigger-like, from slapstick to realism?