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Disney’s ‘Christopher Robin’ faces off with ‘Mission: Impossible — Fallout’ at the box office

By Ryan Faughnder • Aug 2, 2018 at 3:00 PM

In Walt Disney Co.’s “Christopher Robin,” the title character is a working stiff who badly needs Winnie the Pooh to rekindle the joy in his life. Meanwhile, Disney is hoping the movie injects new life into the nostalgic children’s franchise.

“Christopher Robin,” starting Ewan McGregor, is expected to open with about $30 million in the U.S. and Canada this weekend, according to people who’ve reviewed prerelease audience surveys.

That will put the new film in a tight race with last weekend’s victor, “Mission: Impossible — Fallout,” which debuted with a strong $61 million domestically and earned a stellar response from critics.

Here’s what to watch.

A GOLDEN BEAR?

A $30-million launch would be a solid start for “Christopher Robin,” the Burbank studio’s latest effort to bring a new twist on an old film property at the multiplex. The entertainment giant has achieved huge success by producing live action revivals such as “Beauty and the Beast,” “Maleficent” and “The Jungle Book,” all based on animated classics.

But aside from immensely popular properties such as “Beauty,” the studio’s live action business has sometimes struggled to connect with audiences in recent years, fielding disappointments such as “A Wrinkle in Time” and “The Finest Hours.” The studio is also working on new movies based on “Mary Poppins,” “Aladdin” and “Mulan.”

Disney has had a long and colorful history with Winnie the Pooh and the rest of the plush toy menagerie created by British author A.A. Milne. The studio first released the animated short film “Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree” in 1966, followed by a series of other shorts, straight-to-video titles and theatrical feature films. The most recent, 2011’s “Winnie the Pooh,” grossed a modest $27 million in the U.S. and Canada.

It hasn’t always been a honey pot. Disney endured 18 years of legal battles with the family of Stephen Slesinger, which accused the studio of copyright cheating them out of royalties. Slesinger acquired the Pooh merchandising rights from Milne in 1930, and his widow assigned the family’s rights to Disney after he died. In 2004, a state court judge threw out the Slesingers’ 1991 breach-of-contract lawsuit against Disney. A federal judge in 2009 decided in favor of Disney in a separate copyright case brought by the Slesinger heirs.

‘DARK’ DAYS

A handful of other movies will compete for audiences’ attention this week as Tom Cruise and Pooh battle for the top spot.

Leading the way will probably be “The Spy Who Dumped Me,” an action comedy starring Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon. It’s expected to open with $10 million to $15 million, according to analysts. The movie, directed by Susanna Fogel, was produced by Santa Monica studio Lionsgate and Imagine Entertainment, the film and TV production company of Brian Grazer and Ron Howard.

20th Century Fox’s “The Darkest Minds,” a dystopian sci-fi adventure about a group of teens with newfound special abilities, is poised for a lackluster debut of less than $10 million, according to projections. Also in theaters is “Death of a Nation,” the latest documentary from controversial conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza.

Meanwhile, “Eighth Grade,” Bo Burnham’s critically acclaimed story of a 13-year-old girl trying to find her way through adolescence, is getting an expanded release from indie powerhouse A24.

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©2018 Los Angeles Times

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