Disney's "Christopher Robin" is a curious disappointment.
Don't be fooled by advertising promoting it as a rare live action film from the animation studio. The action, whatever there is in this sensationally dull movie, must have been left on the cutting room floor. Granted, it is live, at least in parts, although the acting is so labored it hardly matters. This is the sort of devastatingly boring film that sets up every shot with "Lights! Camera! Zzzzzzzzz!!!"
The film repurposes stock notions from Disney's usually beguiling Winnie-the-Pooh library, trying to expand its appeal to adults by combining it with the story of a man, who, alas, turns out to be so tedious you wouldn't want to ride the elevator with him. That is Ewan McGregor playing Christopher Robin, and yes, that is his last name. He lives in London with his wife, Evelyn (Hayley Atwell), and their daughter, Madeline (Bronte Carmichael).
Though the film opens with flipping pages of A.A. Milne's writings and illustrations from his children's books, he's never mentioned beyond being implicitly killed off early so the film can focus on exciting adventures in his sort-of son's life. Except there is positively nothing exciting about him.
Losing his father while he was a young sprout in boarding school extinguished Christopher's love for life, it seems. As did serving in World War II, which the battlefield footage shows as not much fun.
We see him before all that in childhood, having a farewell picnic with Winnie, Tigger, Owl and the whole gang, and wishing each other the best. After graduating into the adult world of big cities, tall concrete-colored office buildings and work responsibilities, he has become a sniveling underling at a luggage company. He has a Scrooge-like overseer (Mark Gatiss), for whom he keeps his nose directly on the grindstone at all times.
After a day of that, Christopher doesn't return to his wife and daughter with a wheelbarrow full of energy and good cheer. He wants Madeline to concentrate on her studies so she can grow up to be a workaholic office drone just like him, and his wife can't remember the last time they went dancing.
As a portrait of a failing marriage, this is very good. If features a complete (almost impressive) lack of chemistry between McGregor and Atwell. Fear not, romance triumphs and they impersonate members in a sugary love affair by the end, but it takes them a very long stretch to get there.
Their matchmaker is — spoiler alert — Winnie-the-Pooh, who comes to London because he misses his old friend Christopher Robin. (It's a weirdness in the film that his stuffed friends all call him by his first and last name.) Winnie (veteran voice artist Jim Cummings doing an admirable job of mimicking the late Sterling Holloway) and the other stuffed animals are handled not as projected memories from Christopher's nostalgic past, but as real, living toys. When other people see them, Christopher has a lot of explaining to do. Eventually, he goes back to the Hundred Acre Wood in search of his inner child.
A feel-good movie about a put-upon exec recovering his zest for life seems so terribly worthy. It sounds bearable, at the very least. How did this manage to totally skip out on all the fun parts of such a movie? Hint: There are seven credited screenwriters — one of them Minnesotan Mark Steven Johnson of "Grumpy Old Men" fame — which as good as guarantees a dud.
McGregor, almost whispering his lines to sound woebegone, sounds like he has laryngitis. Director Marc Forster ("Monster's Ball," "Quantum of Solace," "World War Z") is not the go-to guy for light entertainment.
Even the effects are off the mark. The digital images of stuffed toy animals that bounce and chat are marvels of modern technology, but they perform and inspire us about as well as a bird in a cuckoo clock. Nevertheless, the film is fixated on the realistic look of their furry, stuffed bodies to the point of obsession. There's so much attention paid to their anatomies, when they walk their feet actually get close-ups.
That said, the cinematography is as good as anything I have seen this year. Other than that, however, I can recommend the film only if you or your young ones have had difficulty getting to sleep lately. Otherwise, there reportedly is a "Paddington 3" in the works, and I think we'll have a wonderful time then.
★½ out of 4 stars
Rating: PG for some action.