From Kenny Loggins songs to greeting cards to theme park rides, the breadth of Winnie-the-Pooh is vast.
And it seems the philosophical bear is suddenly even more prominent.
Less than a year ago came “Goodbye Christopher Robin,” an underappreciated, sometimes-dark study of the life of Pooh’s creator, A.A. Milne, and his relationship with Christopher Robin, his real-life son who became Milne’s protagonist in his brilliant series of books.
Don’t confuse it with this tender-hearted, family-oriented Disney sundae – a work of fiction - in which humans (Ewan McGregor, better than he needs to be in the title role) interact with the cuddly inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood in fine CGI-hybrid form.
From the earliest scenes, we’re whisked into the peaceful countryside (actually filmed at Windsor Great Park, which just vaulted to the top of my vacation list) where Pooh (given voice, as he has since 1988, by Jim Cummings), Tigger (also Cummings), Eeyore (a gloomy-pitch-perfect Brad Garrett), Piglet (neurotic as ever), Kanga and Roo (adorable and more adorable), Owl and Rabbit hold elaborate tea parties and nap.
Seriously, can we all just move there?
The film briskly morphs Christopher Robin from boy to man with the turn of a few pages – E. H. Shepard’s classic drawings are brought to life in a cool animation twist – and soon enough he’s a married man with a young daughter and a soul-eviscerating job as an “efficiency manager” at a luggage company.
Christopher is saddled with coming up with a solution to shrinking sales and inevitable layoffs, so instead of spending a blissful weekend in the country with his family, he must continue his life as a joyless, overworked adult at their tony London apartment.
As is wont to happen in fantasy-family films, a smashed jar of honey – naturally - creates a portal from the Hundred Acre Wood to the courtyard of Christopher’s dwelling and through it toddles Christopher’s beloved friend left behind in boyhood, Winnie-the-Pooh.
With wheat-colored fur that often looks like a scraggly beard, a fuzzy red sweater that doesn’t quite fit over his rumbling tummy and doleful, unblinking puppy eyes, this Pooh is a bit like the huggable bear version of Wilford Brimley.
Of course, he’s been Disney-fied from Shepard’s classic drawings (if you haven’t visited the High Museum’s lovely “Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic” exhibit, add it to your Pooh-centric activity list), but he still exudes warmth and dry humor.
Christopher Robin’s initial wonder at seeing the silly old bear again soon turns to annoyance at his toddler-like disruptions. But of course we all know that Pooh has returned to help Christopher realize What’s Really Important In Life.
Pooh is a charming rambler, spouting philosophies that you hear, but then have to go back to actually listen to (“I always get to where I’m going by walking away from where I’ve been,” he tells Christopher with a plainspoken shrug). And when a series of convenient mishaps surrounding Christopher’s essential work notes leads him back to the gang at the Hundred Acre Wood, more subtle life lessons are imparted by the assortment of animals (Eeyore, saturated in pessimism and sarcasm, speaks for the adults in the room when Tigger breaks into his signature song).
Although the film drags with a too-long escapade through the streets of London and sometimes trips over its predictability, there is a sweetness and comfort to it all.
For a bear of “very little brain,” Winnie-the-Pooh has plenty of wisdom to impart.
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Jim Cumming (voice of Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger), Brad Garrett (voice of Eeyore).
Rated PG for thematic elements, war images and brief language. Check Atlanta listings for theaters and showtimes. 1 hour, 44 minutes.