Once upon a time, in a Hundred-Acre Wood, under the name of Sanders, there lived a bear called—
Oh bother. Forget about the bear. Christopher Robin has.
Christopher has no time for such childish things these days. He can’t be bothered with honey and heffalumps, tea parties and pinned-on tails. He’s an adult now, for goodness’ sake. He has—
—a bear called Winnie-the—
—a job. A very important job, I might add, working for a luggage company. He has a family, too: a lovely wife, Evelyn, who loves him very much. Or, at least, she used to, back when he’d dance and laugh. And we can’t forget—
—Pooh. He was the sort of bear that loved—
—Madeline, Christopher’s young daughter. She’s just a bit older than Christopher was when he played in the Hundred-Acre Wood with Piglet and Eeyore and Tigger and the rest. He was the Woods’ undisputed champion back then, a 6-year-old hero who’d save them all from wind and high waters, and pulling Pooh out of rabbit holes when he ate too much—
But Madeline has no time for such nonsense, Christopher feels. Not with boarding school just a few weeks away. She must learn her arithmetic and keep up with her reading. She must work hard. Christopher wants only the best for his little girl, and that means preparing her to succeed and excel in a bitter, brutal world.
No, the Hundred-Acre Wood is closed to traffic now, shuttered and boarded. Christopher Robin has no time to visit it. No one does. Trespassers W—
But Pooh loved Christopher Robin just as much. Maybe more. So one foggy, soggy day, when he wakes up and finds the Hundred-Acre Wood empty of his friends, he has just one thought: “Christopher Robin must help me find everybody,” he says. “Or help everybody find me.”
And so Pooh crawls through a door that opens into a towering tree. And somehow, someway, Pooh pops out in—
London. Noisy, smelly, gray London, where a man … his face lined and worn, clutching a briefcase filled with Very Important Things … sits on a park bench and worries. Alone.
Pooh recognizes Christopher Robin immediately. He’s just the same, underneath the wrinkles and care. It’s time to renew acquaintances.
Even a bear of very little brain knows that things are so much more friendly with two.
Pooh believes that he’s lost his friends. But we in the audience know who’s really lost: Christopher Robin. He’s lost his way, his sense of priorities, and he’s slowly losing his family, too—a wife and daughter who are floating past him like a twig in a river.
But Pooh, unintentional philosopher that he is, takes Christopher Robin’s old compass and—even though he has no idea how to read it—points Christopher in the right direction. He shows Christopher that his briefcase filled with Very Important Things is still not as important as his daughter. Pooh reminds him that sometimes the best way to spend one’s time is in doing nothing. He tells Christopher, in so many words, that there’s still a place for childlike whimsy and fun in an oh-so-adult world, that sometimes a red balloon can brighten the grayest of days.
“I always get to where I’m going by walking away from where I’ve been,” he says. Good advice, that.
Christopher Robin also emphasizes that it’s best to have someone else along for the walk, too.
“Pooh to me doesn’t just profess a philosophy about taking time and making time to just sort of do nothing, meaning doing your favorite things,” Christopher Robin producer Brigham Taylor said in an interview with Plugged In. “He’s also about doing those things together. And we always see Pooh not just as a solitary figure, but as someone who is holding the hand of his friend Piglet, or playing with Christopher. It’s about togetherness.”
It’s not that the concerns of our adult Christopher Robin are simply forgotten. Those are real concerns, and everyone in Christopher’s life understands how important they are (at least to Christopher). And when Christopher’s Very Important Things (papers for a critical cost-cutting briefing at work) find their way out of his briefcase, daughter Madeline and Christopher’s cadre of childhood pals go to some incredible lengths to get them back to him.
Christopher Robin doesn’t dwell on any magical alchemy that brings Pooh et al. into Christopher’s adult world. While the film suggests that maybe a little spilled honey on one of his old childhood drawings could’ve awakened Pooh after a multi-decade nap, the bear’s relative liveliness (and that of his friends) is simply a given in the movie’s narrative construct.
Elsewhere, we hear, “Good heavens!” and an earnest exclamation of “Thank God!” Tigger talks about making a “leap of faith,” which he and his pals sorta unintentionally take.
None, really, though Christopher and Evelyn do dance a bit and kiss.
Christopher Robin is a veteran of World War II, and we briefly see him in battle, with explosions detonating around him and fearful soldiers diving for cover. Later, he returns home with his arm in a sling. (Several other soldiers getting of a train have suffered similar injuries.)
Denizens of the Hundred-Acre Wood quiver in fear at the thought of heffalumps and woozles, and several of them suspect that Christopher Robin may be, in fact, a heffalump himself. Christopher—still obsessed with his briefcase filled with Very Important Things at that point—does indeed bluster a lot, frightening the animals, and he falls hard into a hole dug especially to snare heffalumps. (Some momentarily tense heffalump-related scenes, while not exactly violent, might scare young viewers.) Christopher must prove he’s not a heffalump by doing battle with those mysterious creatures; his stuffed friends can’t see the melee, but Christopher pummels his own briefcase to make it sound as though he’s battling a horde of the things. (And, metaphorically, perhaps he is.)
Self-aware stuffed animals fly through the air to land with a thud on a car windshield. Eeyore falls down a set of stairs, gets pierced in the rear (with his tacked-on tail), gets thwacked with a tennis ball (off-camera) and worries that he might go careening off a raging waterfall (really, a gentle cascade) before being saved by Christopher Robin. Tigger’s tail gets caught in a suitcase. Shelves crash. Cars are driven dangerously, and one smacks into a newsstand. A ruler smacks hard on a desk.
We hear one use of “my Lord.” Beyond that, the worst words uttered are things like “nincompoop” and “blazes.” Eeyore mentions after one tumble that he hurt his “bum.”
When someone insists he saw a stuffed animal talk, the police officer he’s talking to asks whether he’s been drinking too much “lemonade,” an obvious euphemism for alcohol.
When Madeline learns from Hundred-Acre Wood denizens that her father doesn’t have his papers, she and they leave the family cottage in Sussex and make their way to London, alone—not an adventure you’d want your own little ones emulating.
Christopher Robin’s boss, Giles Winslow, is a bit of a lying pill.
In A.A. Milne’s original book Winnie-the-Pooh (and twisted a bit in the movie), a young Christopher Robin turns to Pooh and says, “Promise you won’t forget about me, ever. Not even when I’m a hundred.”
Christopher Robin isn’t quite 100 in Christopher Robin, but Pooh certainly hasn’t forgotten him. And despite the fact that Milne published Winnie-the-Pooh in 1926, neither have we. Milne’s literary creation tapped into a lasting blend of whimsy and wonder, seasoned with just a touch of melancholy—an understanding that everyone grows up, even Christopher Robin. Like Pooh’s favorite food, honey, I don’t think Winnie-the-Pooh stories will ever spoil.
Christopher Robin takes a lot of license with Milne’s characters, obviously. It takes them off the page—removes them, even, from Disney’s own beloved, and surprisingly Milne-faithful, 2D animation—and plops them into our reality, rendering them as living creatures in a real-world environment.
And yet, the movie captures the spirit of the original stories. The fun. The humor. The unintended wisdom. And especially the bittersweet melancholy.
Christopher Robin is a fun movie for kids, no question. On one level, it’s a light, spirited adventure story, one that eschews bathroom humor and winking adult asides almost completely.
But all that said, this film wasn’t made just for kids. It was made for us, too—the adults who fret about our own Very Important Things, but who’ve somehow managed to carve out a couple precious hours from our busy schedules to take the rug rats to the movies. And it reminds us that those children—the sons and daughters sitting beside us—are to be treasured. Not like something to be stowed in a pirate’s chest or squirreled away in a bank account, but like a spring day, or a flower, or an afternoon walk in the woods.
Like those things, childhood doesn’t last. That’s part of what makes it precious.
The movie also reminds us that even though we all grow up and grow into adult responsibilities, a sense of childlike wonder never goes amiss. So while it’s important to teach our children what we know and to prepare them for adulthood, we can learn from them, too.
They, more than we, understand that a bright and clear summer morning is more important than all our Very Important Things. That sometimes the most important way to spend one’s time is to do nothing important at all … with the ones we cherish most.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.