Given the company's current business model, it makes perfect sense that Disney would finally get around to releasing a film with the explicit message "constantly dwelling in nostalgia is good, and caring about adult things is bad". I don't even think I'm being ungenerous to Christopher Robin in summing it up that way; at least that's a theme that gives it some kind of personal identity beyond "emotionally distant father learns to reconnect with his childhood sense of whimsy, becomes better father", a story that has been told enough times that it would tire me to list precursors. The one that Christopher Robin most obviously evokes is Hook, so let's just go with that one.

For this is just exactly that: what if Christopher Robin, the guileless boychild who once traipsed through the magical Hundred Acre Wood with Winnie the Pooh and Piglet and Eeyore and the rest, what if he, like grew up? This question has a pretty straightforward answer: he would grow to intensely resent his father for commercialising his childhood, he would find Disney to be a lot of crass vultures destroying the soul of the books, and at the age of 54, he would write a memoir wiping his hands of the whole Pooh business, asserting his own identity far away from the private hell that had been his late childhood and adolescence, evincing not the slightest lingering affection for the toys, the books, or any of that. Since this would not have been a movie Disney wanted to make, they've made the sensible choice that this will not be the story of Christopher Robin Milne, a real-life human being, but of just Christopher Robin ("Robin" being his surname, which makes the spectacle of all the enchanted animals calling him "Christopher Robin" feel less charming than martial and unpleasantly officious), who is clearly older by a few years: when we see him circa 1948, he is played by 46-year-old Ewan McGregor (every aspect of the character as written suggests he's younger than that), working as an efficiency expert at Winslow Luggages, where has to help the charmless, turtle-faced Giles Winslow (Mark Gatiss), a useless boss's son, find ways of reducing costs by individual percentage points. This takes up so much of his time that he's basically become a ghost to his wife, Evelyn (Hayley Atwell, wholly wasted in a role that could easily have been played by large rock with a wig on it), and his young daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael), who has been raised to be, literally, incapable of having fun.

As we've seen, though, in an opening that re-enacts the end of both A.A. Milne's 1928 The House at Pooh Corner and Disney's 1977 The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Christopher used to have many good friends whom he played with in the woods outside his family's cottage in Sussex. Animal friends, specifically: nervous Piglet (Nick Mohammed), miserable Eeyore (Brad Garrett), adrenaline junkie Tigger (Jim Cummings), wide-eyed Roo (Sara Sheen) and his patient mother Kanga (Sophie Okonedo), intellectually smug Owl (Toby Jones), the personality-denuded Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), and most of all Winnie the Pooh (Cummings), a bear of very little brains and very healthy appetite for honey. As it so happens, a honey-related accident is responsible for those creatures coming back into his life, and teaching him - sit down and prepare yourself, this part is going to be shocking - teaching him how to be a better dad and husband, and to have more fun in his life. Because this is a family movie in the 21st Century, this requires a third-act chase scene. Also, we'll learn eventually, these weren't just Christopher's fanciful creations based on his toys and the local fauna: they actively exist as ageless sapient beings with lives and identities untethered to Christopher, and are able to interact with other human beings in the world. At the same time, they still look like well-worn plush toys (except for Owl and Rabbit, who look like real animals - dismayingly so, in Rabbit's case), with plastic buttons for eyes and everything, and the whole thing is just full of ontological questions that the film doesn't care about even slightly.

The animals are photorealistic CGI effects, and I will say this on behalf of Christopher Robin: though I was fully expecting to find them terrifying little nightmare blobs, and this is certainly true of Pooh, Tigger, and Eeyore initially, it's something I eventually got used to. It helps that the scenes of the animals interacting with McGregor are unerringly the most interesting in the film. McGregor really gets into these scenes, and unlike far too many people in movies with substantial numbers of computer-generated cast members, he believably interacts with them for the most part (that Star Wars training finally pays off!). Only once, almost all the way to the end, does the actor put his hand on "Pooh's" "shoulder", where you can visibly seem him making calculations about how low he can go and how much he should curl his fingers.

Every non-animal scene, though? Eh. Atwell, as mentioned, is given absolutely nothing to do in a role that kind even rise up the level of "concerned wife" boilerplate, and generally speaking, everything involving the Robins' home life is the most soul-sucking kind of paint-by-numbers emotionalism, not just because anyone over the age of 10 should be able to see the end coming from within the first ten minutes (it somehow produced five credited writers to produce this story and screenplay, despite it being the most obvious shit in the world. It's a weird collection too, including Oscar-winner Tom McCarthy and psychologically introspective micro-indie director Alex Ross Perry). And the film spends a lot of time on the domestic drama: undoubtedly, McGregor looking disconcerted is cheaper than animating a half-dozen CGI animals, but the film's miscalculation of how interesting it is to look at McGregor pouring over expense reports vs. staring gosmacked at an unnervingly well-textured CGI teddy bear is pretty fundamental to how snoozy the overall thing is.

Not that the Pooh & Friends scenes are necessarily great: the pacing is much too slow, taking its cues from the bear's very methodical way of thinking and speaking, and crawling by accordingly. This is not least of the many ways in which Marc Forster's direction undermines the movie (he also has a pretty obvious love for close-ups that makes the movie seem smaller and more cluttered, and also necessitates a lot of gross, choppy editing by Matt Chesse that absolutely massacres the flow of conversations), and even when it is at its sweetest and cutest, Christopher Robin is still frankly more boring than it is either of those things. It's a drab, wan, washed-out thing - very literally, given the shockingly lifeless cinematography by Matthias Koenigswieser, which represents the hectic, anodyne world of London as a range of bland, desaturated greys, and showcases the vitality of the Sussex countryside by shifting to a range of bland, desaturated browns. There has always been something soft and muted in Disney's Pooh material but this goes beyond "muted" into "sepulchral", and while it is very, very far from being the worst or most insipid thing Disney has down with these characters, it puts up a good fight to be the most dull.