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The gentle nostalgia of ‘Christopher Robin’

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Nostalgia is a powerful thing. To some extent, the entertainment landscape has always been sculpted by our fondness for memories of the past. But nostalgia’s power has grown exponentially in the internet age; today’s popular culture is powered by our love for what came before.

So it makes sense that a movie like “Christopher Robin” would appear at this moment in time. And when you take into account the general air of cynicism that permeates our discourse, the idea of a gentle remembrance of something pure and beloved from our youth sounds pretty darned nice.

And that’s what this latest Disney offering is – nice. It isn’t anything spectacular. It’s just nice. It’s a chance to visit with Winnie the Pooh and Piglet and Tigger and the rest of the A.A. Milne gang in a slightly different manner. Yes, it’s about what it means to grow up and put away childish things, but mostly, it’s about checking in with some old friends.

After an opening montage that takes us through young Christopher Robin’s last visit to the Hundred Acre Wood (with the whole gang present) before heading off to boarding school and growing up to become Ewan McGregor, an efficiency manager for a luggage company in post-WWII London. He’s married to Evelyn (Hayley Atwell, TV’s “Howard’s End”) and has a daughter named Madeline (Bronte Carmichael, “Darkest Hour”). He loves his family, but his job continues to get in the way. When his idiot boss Giles Winslow (Mark Gatiss, “The Mercy”) demands that he find a way to cut costs by 20 percent, Christopher Robin has to tell his family to go to his family’s cottage by themselves.

Meanwhile, Winnie the Pooh (Jim Cummings, “Charming”) has been waiting, wondering if Christopher Robin will come back. But one morning, he wakes up and can’t find any of his friends. After a search, he finally decides that he’ll go through Christopher Robin’s door and see if his old friend will help him find the lost group.

Pooh’s sudden appearance turns Christopher Robin’s world topsy-turvy. Despite having only hours to put together a plan to save not only his job, but the jobs of those who work under him, he hops on a train with Pooh and heads to Sussex. He makes his own way back to the Hundred Acre Wood with Pooh and quickly tracks down the rest of the gang – neurotic Piglet (Nick Mohammed, “The Sense of an Ending”), gloomy Eeyore (Brad Garrett, TV’s “I’m Dying Up Here”), madcap Tigger (Cummings), uptight Rabbit (Peter Capaldi, TV’s “Doctor Who”), snooty Owl (Toby Jones, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”) and mother-and-son pair Kanga (Sophie Okenedo, “Antony & Cleopatra”) and Roo (Sara Sheen in her debut) – before rushing back to London to give his presentation (disappointing his family one more time in the process).

But a twist of fate leaves Christopher Robin’s success in the hands of Pooh and his friends. They’ve no choice but to make their way back and try to help their friend … with some assistance from a brand-new young friend.

“Christopher Robin” is a sweet, charming trifle. There’s not a lot of depth here beyond the standard “being an adult doesn’t mean forgetting how to be a child” lesson that we’ve gotten a hundred times before, but that’s OK. Honestly, that’s almost a feature rather than a big – there’s comfort in being taught a perfectly lovely lesson that we’ve already learned. It’s proudly, unwaveringly sentimental in a way that engages even when things get a bit saccharine and treacly.

Marc Forster isn’t necessarily the guy you’d peg to direct this movie; his filmography includes such varied fare as “Monster’s Ball,” “Quantum of Solace” and “World War Z.” Doesn’t exactly scream “Disney,” does it? But he does good work, presenting some lovely screen tableaus and a consistently strong visual aesthetic. The interactions between the “real” characters and the Hundred Acre Wood denizens look just right; there’s a grubbiness to Pooh and the rest that allows them to fit comfortably into the outside world. Forster is unafraid of keeping things simple with regards to the emotional responses being elicited; he lets our preexisting relationship to the characters do a lot of the heavy lifting.

It doesn’t hurt that the cast is outstanding. McGregor is fine as uptight adult Christopher Robin, but he really shines when we see him allow himself to reengage with Pooh and his other old friends. Atwell is a real talent and is wonderful here, though I could have done with a bit more of her. The two of them together are excellent, whether they’re happy or sad or somewhere in-between. And Carmichael does lovely work for such a young actor, holding her own with some marvelous performers.

Meanwhile, Cummings is a voice acting legend, having provided his voice to hundreds of projects over the years. He’s been the voice of Pooh and Tigger for three decades at this point – he IS those characters. The rest of the cast is stacked with talent – Garrett is a great Eeyore and Mohammed is a stuttering sweetheart as Piglet. Jones and Capaldi are awesome in limited action; they’re only in a handful of scenes.

“Christopher Robin” entertains with a light touch. We get to spend a little time with old friends that we love while getting gently reminded about what’s really important in life. It scratches that nostalgia itch in a sweet and engaging fashion – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

[4 out of 5]

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