Released August 3, 2018, into theaters, Christopher Robin is another reboot, based on an acclaimed animated film from Walt Disney Studios, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977). Directed by Marc Forster (known for his previous films like Finding Neverland (2004) and World War Z (2013) ), and based on A. A. Milne‘s book Winnie-the-Pooh (1926), this movie was a surprising gem.
Honestly, I am not a fan of most of the many reboots which Disney has released in the last ten years. It is tricky and often unwise to adapt from already beloved films and stories. In films like Maleficent (2014) or Beauty and the Beast (2017), directors modernize ideals and morals in an attempt to appease modern audiences. Consequently, they lose the original animated film’s magic. These reboots make a large profit but overall misunderstand what originally made these Disney classics great.
That doesn’t mean I don’t like some of the sequels and remakes which have come out. On the contrary, I am an avid fan of Cinderella (2015) and moderately enjoyed films like Alice in Wonderland (2010). Thankfully, Christopher Robin is a rare reboot that I thoroughly enjoyed and could watch again.
Set in a time both adjacent and separated from the original book, the story shows Christopher become an adult, facing the joys and tragedies of life. He loses his father, falls in love and marries, fights in World War II, and becomes a working man at Winslow Luggages to support his wife Evelyn and daughter Madeline. After twenty years away from the hundred-acre wood, he becomes like his father, who had told him long before, “Nothing is free. You have to work for it.”
At a turning point in his life, he reunites with his friend Pooh, who he had not seen in many years.
Christopher Robin is very similar to Hook (1991), where Peter Pan, another beloved protagonist, loses himself to adulthood and neglects his family. In time he too returned to the world he left behind after he grew up. Before seeing this movie, I thought it would be predictable like Hook. But as I watched this movie in theaters, I realized this story wasn’t predictable in a cheap way.
Like Christopher, we all forget our childhood selves. They become lost as life’s struggles beat us down. Sometimes this leads us onto forgotten roads, where we allow ourselves to succumb to despair. Other times, we can lose gentleness and goodness and let cruelty and bitterness in our hearts.
Christopher was not thoroughly like Peter from Hook. On the surface, their situations were similar, but at a deeper level, their motivations were different. It was the difference between forgetting through neglect on Peter’s part and forgetting through force for Christopher.
As I watched the film, I saw people placed heavy burdens on Christopher Robin, ones children should not have to carry. One line which intrigued me was his mother’s sad statement to Christopher after his father died. She said, to a child no less, “You are the man of the house now.” I feel Christopher idolized his father but feared he could never be like him. He adopted his father’s ideals, though he did not believe them because his father was all Christopher felt he needed to be.
But through all of this, I never felt he didn’t love his family or his past. It was as though he felt obligated to move beyond what he loved and wanted to protect and fulfill his role as “man of the house.” I could see how much it pained him to not be with his family on holiday and the disguised yearning he must have had when he looked at his old drawings of Pooh. He did not question whether or not Pooh existed when he saw him outside his house. He was merely surprised and disgruntled to see him there.
One of my favorite quotes from Catherynne M Valente’s book The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland (2011) reads,
“When you are born,” the golem said softly, “your courage is new and clean. You are brave enough for anything: crawling off of staircases, saying your first words without fearing that someone will think you are foolish, putting strange things in your mouth. But as you get older, your courage attracts gunk, and crusty things, and dirt, and fear, and knowing how bad things can get and what pain feels like. By the time you’re half-grown, your courage barely moves at all, it’s so grunged up with living. So every once in awhile, you have to scrub it up and get the works going, or else you’ll never be brave again.”
― Catherynne M. Valente,
Pooh’s visit reawakened the lost, unhappy Christopher whose courage had come to a standstill.
On the surface, this story is simplistic. It is the story of a man who must learn family and friends are more important than work. But I think at its root, its simple messages are incredibly profound. One thing I had to remind myself was that this film was about Christopher, not nostalgic characters. Usually, it is the other way around. The movie focused on Christopher because he was the one who needed rescuing. In essence, Christopher represented each of us lost souls trying to remember to live life day to day.
Christopher Robin has slow pacing, especially whenever Pooh comes on screen. As steeped in the high-intensity films as our culture is, it is very easy to become frustrated with this story. It is equally easy to say to the story, “get on with it and tell us what this is all about,” but hard to sit back and let it teach us simple truths in the still moments.
The filmmakers purposefully designed this film to go at Pooh’s pace. His troubles and motivations were simple, but everything he said was profound. Lines like “Doing nothing often leads to the very best kind of something.” and “I always get to where I’m going by walking away from where I’ve been.” made me reflect on myself and how scared I often am of being still. Without stillness and meditation, it is easy to get stuck in my current self.
Many moments in this movie touched me. One example is when Christopher reunites with Pooh. Not only is he shocked to see Pooh there at all, but also he says in amazement “Pooh how did you recognize me. I’m all grown up”. And then Pooh, honest and kind to a fault, tells him he has indeed changed, having a few more wrinkles and such, but he was still the same Christopher Robin staring out of his eyes.
This is like Punchinello’s story from Max Lucado’s renowned storybook You are Special (1997). Punchinello goes to meet his maker, Eli after his people reject and mark him with degrading black dots representing his many faults and inabilities. Eli tells him the marks did not define who he was. He could see beyond them to the special soul he had created.
Time had not kept Pooh, or I dare say, Christopher from recognizing each other. Some friendships are made to last beyond a simple lifetime. We change, and are ever changing, but at our core we are still ourselves.
Later, after finding everyone in the acre wood again, Christopher goes to Pooh and sits on their log. Christopher tells Pooh, clearly believing it himself, “I’m not the person I used to be.” But though he did not believe in himself, Pooh tells him, “You saved us. You’re a hero.” Then, still unwilling to believe this truth, sad Christopher tells him, “I’m not a hero, Pooh. The fact is, I’m lost.”
This was the Christopher whose father had died and left him his mantle, the Christopher who fought in a devastating war, and the father and husband who felt he could not be good enough or give his family enough. I love how then Pooh said, who could always see life with eyes unclouded by busyness and sorrow, “But I found you.”
This was a good movie for me to see. Going through my own struggles, I felt it was me who needed to hear things like, “Your life is happening now, right in front of you.” and “I always get to where I’m going by walking away from where I’ve been.” I felt seeing this movie lifted a dark cloud that had settled on my mind. I loved watching Christopher come back to himself and see the burdens which had settled on him slowly dissipate.
I especially loved to see how Pooh and Christopher had not forgotten their promise to each other. Pooh asked, “What should happen if you forget about me?” Christopher answered in pure honesty and innocence, unburdened by his life ahead of him, “Silly old bear. I wouldn’t ever forget about you, Pooh, I promise. Not even when I’m a hundred.” I have to wonder if this is not unlike our relationship with God.
I truly and sincerely love stories like this one. Honestly, I want to go see it again because it truly lightened my spirits and made me laugh. It is so far my favorite film I have seen this year.
Now, I am not saying this movie is perfect. I can’t think of one that is. But I feel in my heart we need stories like this one. Stories that remind us how life is in the glorious beautiful now. There was no ulterior motive to it. No subliminal messaging. No sexual innuendos or foul language. No gratuitous violence or immoral behavior. I don’t think it will be too popular, nor do I believe most will remember it past this year. But I do know its message about family, unburdened by heavy conflicts, moral battles, or media, is much needed today in our world.
We are all a little lost. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be found or change or remember from whence we came. I wholeheartedly give my recommendation for this movie, especially for those looking for something a little nostalgic and lighthearted.
I don’t feel like eating it. So I simply give it a well earned golden star of recognition.