Going into the World Premiere of Disney’s Christopher Robin on The Walt Disney Studios lot in Burbank Monday night, I was in the unique position that I’d actually already done something that much of the cast and crew had not – I’d seen the film in a private screening with my group the night before. Now, writing this review a day prior to its theatrical release, I’m eager to see it again with my family – a prospect that I was already looking forward to before seeing it, and am even more excited about having seen it twice already. Christopher Robin isn’t necessarily the film that you might think that it is. Indeed, young Christopher isn’t really that young anymore, and yes – the residents of The Hundred Acre Wood do set out to help him (as seen in the trailers), but that’s not the point. Christopher Robin is a film about family – specifically about being present and aware of all that is good around us. As I tweeted upon exiting the theater, Christopher Robin is a film that will make you rethink your life, and it’s also about something that’s very dear to me… the importance of play.
This review contains minor spoilers: Aside from the wonder of seeing familiar characters like Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga and Roo, Owl and Rabbit realized in “live-action” thanks to the magic of CGI aided by real-world puppetry, we enter The Hundred Acre Wood much in the same way as we last left it – through a certain tree, and seeing a boy named Christopher Robin playing with his very well-loved friends. But joy turns to sadness as we learn that this is no ordinary party, but a going-away party as Christopher prepares to be shipped off to boarding school. Kids grow up, and it’s a bittersweet thing.
Back in the main world, the boy becomes a man, and as many men of the 1940s were, he finds himself as a new husband and soon-to-be-father, pulled from his wife and drafted into military service. Returning to civilian life as a battle-hardened veteran, Christopher Robin meets his daughter, Madeline, for the very first time, after which he takes a job as the Efficiency Manager for the Winslow Luggage Company.
In an era where work-life-balance is a subject of much debate, Christopher Robin takes place in a time where men were expected to head off to work while their wives would stay at home with the children. Work for Christopher becomes an all-consuming task both at home and the office, and his daughter and wife, Evelyn suffer for it. Christopher has forgotten how to play, and the fact that he’s tasked with heading-up massive budget cuts and layoffs makes it all the worse.
With his wife and daughter away in Sussex for the weekend, Robin is shocked when Pooh bear appears in a London park, having come through “the tree from which Christopher Robin has been known to appear.” A day spent with Pooh makes it clear to Christopher that they must return to The Hundred Acre Wood, but not to return Pooh home, but so that he can rediscover himself and learn what it’s like to play again… that sometimes doing nothing can lead to the best somethings. Could that simple fact be a solution to both problems at home and problems at work?
Watching the film, which is truly delightful and at times funny, charming, heartwarming and adventurous, I saw hints of myself in Christopher – and not in a good way. While I know that men are more present in their families’ lives than any generation before… and that I can 100% say that I spend more time with my family than my own father did with his back when I was growing up, there are glimmers of how I never want to be, and I know that in the past I have been.
There’s a moment when Christopher, hammering away at a mechanical typewriter (I’m typing on a mechanical keyboard right now), expresses frustration at the distraction of his wife and daughter dancing outside of his home office. He slams the French doors and goes back to his work. I can relate. And even more tear-jerking, a brief moment when Robin takes his frustration out on Pooh, yelling at the little bear in a way that’s framed like an adult that’s yelling at a frightened child – a child who stands there and takes it, internalizing the hurt feelings that have been caused. Pooh thinks that he has “very little brain,” when in fact he has “a very big heart.” It’s painful to see, but it takes those moments of darkness to emerge into the light as a better person. I think that all parents can relate to those moments when stress gets the best of them, and it’s important to remember that they will pass. Even if we have the best intentions for our children, sometimes it just isn’t perceived that way.
We need to let our kids be kids, because one day, like us, they too will grow up.
Christopher Robin is directed by Marc Forster from a screenplay by Alex Ross Perry and Allison Schroeder and a story by Perry based on characters created by A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard. The producers are Brigham Taylor and Kristin Burr, with Renée Wolfe and Jeremy Johns serving as executive producers. The film stars Ewan McGregor as Christopher Robin; Hayley Atwell as his wife Evelyn; Bronte Carmichael as his daughter Madeline; and Mark Gatiss as Keith Winslow, Robin’s boss. The film also features the voices of: Jim Cummings as Winnie the Pooh and Tigger; Brad Garrett as Eeyore; Toby Jones as Owl; Nick Mohammed as Piglet; Peter Capaldi as Rabbit; and Sophie Okonedo as Kanga. Get tickets now via my affiliate, Fandango.