The world of Winnie-the-Pooh is given an appealing new spin in “Christopher Robin,” Disney’s latest bid to reassert the relevance of A.A. Milne’s quaint kid-lit icon. On its face, the live-action film comes across as a chance to watch Ewan McGregor infuse an adult, critter-harried Christopher with his sly comedic edge. It’s surprising to see how straight McGregor plays it for director Marc Forster (the J.M. Barrie portrait “Finding Neverland”), allowing the CG-animated Pooh and friends to endearingly steal the show.
Aside from its title and tweedy period aesthetic, this fictional confection doesn’t have much in common with last year’s indie Milne-and-son biopic “Goodbye Christopher Robin.” Both stories might show us a grown-up Christopher impatient to be done with the old bear’s silliness, but here the issue is something altogether more fanciful than pesky literary legacy.
McGregor’s character is a beleaguered mid-management drone in post-World War II London, thanklessly toiling for a luggage manufacturer — as opposed to dealing with “baggage,” which presumably would’ve been too on-the-nose. He’s an overly serious sort forever caught between his uncaring boss (Mark Gatiss, the BBC’s “Sherlock”) and his wistfully neglected perfect family. (Underutilized Hayley Atwell, of “Captain America,” seems cast mostly for her period look as Christopher’s wife; Bronte Carmichael is capably cute as the couple’s little girl.)
In the midst of Christopher’s latest work crisis, Pooh reenters his life, magically whisked to the city from the Hundred Acre Wood on a particularly rambling honey quest. True to his boyhood promise, Christopher hasn’t forgotten Pooh with time. But he has no time for him, and promptly escorts his old playmate home — a little too comically conspicuously for comfort — so that beans can be counted and ledgers balanced.
The lessons McGregor’s stress case learns while off in the countryside are gently predictable: The forest’s gloomy new emptiness directly reflects what Christopher is feeling. He really ought to be spending time with his family at their wood’s-edge retreat, where they’ve reluctantly gone without him.
What’s so satisfying about these telegraphed messages is the earnest, old-fashioned charm that McGregor and longtime Pooh voice actor Jim Cummings bring to them. The CG animals’ designs even look to E.H. Shepard’s vintage book illustrations as a template rather than previous, sleeker Disney incarnations.
Meanwhile, voice cast additions such as Brad Garrett and a group of five writers (“Spotlight” filmmaker Tom McCarthy among them) lend the toy menagerie a contemporary flair that’s funny without being obtrusive. When Garrett’s Eeyore mutters, “Don’t get me started,” you don’t want him to stop.
Directed by Marc Forster. Written by Alex Ross Perry, Tom McCarthy, and Allison Schroeder, from a story by Mark Steven Johnson and Greg Brooker. Starring Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael, Jim Cummings, Brad Garrett. At Boston theaters, West Newton, suburbs. 104 minutes. PG (action).