If you're looking for surprises, Christopher Robin won't provide it. But it is a sweet and endearing story with a moral you can see a mile away - and subtext you won't.
You only need to see the trailers to know that Christopher Robin presumes that the titular boy of the A.A. Milne stories grew up to be an ordinary middle-management businessman who forgot how to play and be a child, passing along his seriousness to his own child, set to study and "work" without fun. There's a slight hint that serving in the war might have led to this seriousness, but the movie doesn't get that deep into it (other than one quick "war" montage that might be a touch unsettling for younger ones, but nothing too graphic for most viewers).
So naturally, Christopher Robin must learn to laugh and play, to "do nothing" as Pooh himself reminds him regularly. There's a problem with this moral, which I'll get to in a bit.
The best parts of the film are the brilliantly recreated "stuffed animals" come to life in and out of the Hundred Acre Wood. In a nice twist, anyone can see and hear them, which leads to some delightful silliness, and less "Christopher Robin's gone mad" nonsense than I was expecting.
As usual, the most popular characters get the most play, with Pooh, Tigger, Piglet and Eeyore eclipsing Kanga, Roo, Rabbit and Owl (which is too bad, because I was looking forward to an underused Peter Capaldi as Rabbit). But frankly, my favorite parts of the movie were "any time Eeyore is talking." I adore Eeyore, and he was hilariously dour.
There's plenty of sentiment, particularly with child Christopher Robin's departure in the beginning for boarding school and "growing up." A softer soul than mine would have to pull out the hankies at that point (and Mr. CultureGeek definitely did). There's also some serious gloom, which I found interesting - work as a place of hiding from real life, seriousness as code for depression, and when viewed in that light, it seems a bit overly simplistic to posit that "doing nothing" is the best way to overcome it.
This leads me to my main quibble: The entire plot hinges on Christopher Robin skipping yet another family weekend so he can work, apparently a habit for him. It's the final straw for his wife (a criminally underutilized Hayley Atwell) and the child who wants only to read and play with him. The entire movie depends on "priorities, Christopher!"
Only... the movie makes it clear that if he does not do this task set before him, his entire division will be shut down. All the people who work for him will lose their jobs. (Their names are a mishmash of the actors who voiced the characters in earlier Pooh films, but unlike my suspicions while watching, they are not the actors voicing the gang in this film. Some of the personalities will seem a tad familiar, however...)
We meet them, and it is made clear that they are good, hardworking people... so it's hard for us to cheer on the moral of the story. Sure, Christopher Robin needs to lighten up and pay attention to his family, but do hundreds of people and the handful we meet need to go on the bread lines because Christopher decided to go on holiday for the weekend? It was a mistake to put other people's futures on the line for Christopher's Big Choice, in my opinion.
It's the balance between real life and the amusements of childhood that we are meant to strive for, and the movie does manage to tie this up in a sane manner that underscores a sly bit of 21st-century socioeconomic equality. I appreciated it, though I know it made some growl, because we can't have nice things. That's the subtext I wasn't expecting, and it would take too many spoilers to expound on how important that moral is - more important than "remember childhood and take time to hold a red balloon and smile," frankly.
Still, we don't go to movies like Christopher Robin to examine economic class equality or the philosophy of a workaholic world. We go to watch Ewan McGregor perfectly carry an entire film acting with CGI stuffed animals so well-drawn I could forget they weren't real, and brilliantly voiced by Jim Cummings, Brad Garrett and others. You can't underestimate the skill in creating the characters - at one point Eeyore is soaked, and I swear he looked soaked and moved as though his stuffing were soggy. I forgot he was CGI, folks. And I don't think anyone failed to smile when Cummings' Pooh first spoke.
It's a charming, sweet film heavy on nostalgia, and should make fans of the books and the Disney films happy. And if it reminds you to buy a red balloon and walkabout with the kids in the wood sometime, all the better.