Movie Review: 'Christopher Robin'

All work and no play makes Christopher Robin a dull dad
Christopherrobin Photo3
Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Studio Pictures
30 years after they say goodbye in the Hundred Acre Woods, Christopher Robin (played by Ewan McGregor) reunites with Piglet, Winnie the Pooh, Rabbit, Kanga, Roo, Tigger, and Eeyore.

Disney’s “Christopher Robin” brings the timeless charm and nostalgia of A.A. Milne’s stories and characters to the big screen with an imaginative tale about an adult Christopher being reunited with his old stuffed bear friend, Winnie the Pooh.

 The story begins with the final scene of A.A. Milne’s “The House at Pooh Corner,” in which Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings, the same actor who has voiced the character for the past 30 years) and friends — Tigger (also Cummings), Piglet (Nick Mohammed), Eeyore (Brad Garrett), Owl (Toby Jones), Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), Kanga (Sophie Okonedo), and Roo (Sara Sheen) — host a goodbye party for 9-year-old Christopher Robin (Orton O'Brien,) who is leaving for boarding school. It’s their usual meeting spot, out in the Hundred Acre Woods, and Christopher vows that he will never forget Winnie the Pooh. However, Christopher leaves his childhood and stuffed animal friends behind, and heads off to boarding school, where he is forced to grow up fast.

Several decades later, Christopher (now played by Ewan McGregor) is an adult, and serving in the British Army in World War II. After the military, Christopher lands a lucrative job as an “Efficiency Expert” at Winslow Luggage. He is married to Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and they have a 9-year-old daughter named Madeline (Bronte Carmichael.)

It is now the 1940s, at the end of World War II. Profits are down at Winslow Luggage, and Christopher’s boss (Mark Gatiss) tells him to cut expenditures by 20 percent, mainly by firing some employees. He is asked to prepare a presentation about this for the Board of Directors on Monday.

In other words, Christopher will be working the entire weekend working on this presentation. So much for his personal plans; He promised his family they’d go their countryside cottage in Sussex. Yes, it’s the same cottage that Christopher grew up in. Sadly, Evelyn and Madeline leave for the cottage without him.

Christopher has become a workaholic, and never has time for his family.  He’s forgotten how to have fun. His idea of a bedtime story is reading one of Madeline’s academic textbooks (and quizzing her on it) rather than sharing a fairy tale. He also wants to send Madeline to boarding school, which she doesn’t want at all.

Somehow, Winnie the Pooh mysteriously comes back into Christopher’s life. Crawling into a tree in the Hundred Acre Woods, Pooh finds a magic portal that takes him to London. Gosh, Christopher hasn’t thought about his old friend Winnie the Pooh in 30 years! Initially, Pooh doesn’t recognize Christopher either—he’s isn’t a little boy anymore— He's a grown man. Now that they’re reunited, Christopher reluctantly brings Pooh back to the Hundred Acre Wood through a tree door that magically transports them to his Sussex cottage. Pooh asks for Christopher’s help, because he’s lost track of Tigger, Eeyore and Piglet. Christopher wants to wrap things up quickly, so he can get back to his work. What he doesn’t realize that his life is about to turn upside down.

All work and no play

The takeaway of the movie is that all work and no play makes Christopher Robin a dull dad. He’s become so absorbed in his work that he’s forgotten how to have fun.  Christopher reconnects with Pooh, Eeyore and Piglet (very important parts of his childhood) so that he can be a more balanced adult. 

If the film had left it at that, it would have been enough. However, the film ends with Pooh singing a ridiculous mantra, “Doing nothing often leads to the very best kind of something.” Yes, Pooh and his friends actually sing a song about this at the beach, as they relax in lounge chairs. 

(What does he know, he’s a talking stuffed animal who hasn’t been in contact with humans for 30 years?)

Also frustrating is Christopher Robin’s advice to his boss, near the end of the movie. He says the best way for Winston Luggage to recoup its losses is to send all of its employees on paid vacations.  (Eye roll)  Christopher also suggests that his company deal with their 20 percent deficit by doing nothing. I was disappointed that the filmmakers couldn’t find a more constructive message than “doing nothing leads to the best kind of something.”

Critics have praised “Christopher Robin” for its muted colors and painterly feel. Personally, I felt like the stuffed animal characters looked dingy and dull. They’re just not visually appealing. Moviegoers have grown accustomed to colorful and eye-catching CGI from Disney. I was disappointed that Pooh and his friends looked tattered and shabby.

To its credit, the original Winnie the Pooh was quite plain and ordinary, so I guess that’s the look the filmmakers were trying to achieve. What I liked best about “Christopher Robin” is that it’s set in the 1940s, and the film transports you back to that time. Its fun to see the costumes, cars and scenery of that period come to life. The film’s acting performances are convincing and heartfelt. I also liked the British accents and mannerisms.

Appropriateness for children

The stories of Winnie the Pooh have entertained children for almost a hundred years. This is a clean and wholesome film that’s fun for the family to watch together.  It is appropriate for preschoolers as well as children in elementary school and middle school.

If you have young children, there are some minor things that may frighten or disturb them.  There’s a brief scene where Christopher Robin’s father passes away, and he receives the sad news at boarding school.  He hides his feelings, and doesn’t want his classmates to see him crying.  As an adult, Christopher serves in World War II, and we see him fighting on the battlefield, with guns, explosions and wounded causalities of war.  There is a fantasy sequence where the adult Christopher becomes soaking wet in a Heffalump trap. He hallucinates seeing an actual elephant as a Heffalump.

Winnie the Pooh fans may recall that "heffalump" is a child's attempt at pronouncing "elephant." Heffalumps and woozles (weasels) are enemies of Pooh and his friends. They are known to steal honey. In the film, there’s some ominous music as Pooh and his friends fear the heffalumps and woozles when they’re alone in the Hundred Acre Woods.

Final Take

"Christopher Robin” suggests that parent-child relationship is important, and that fathers should not work so hard that they neglect spending time with their families. Christopher is reminded of his better self by reconnecting to his childhood. This reconnection helps him to find his way back to the loves of his life, his wife and daughter. In this way, his life is enriched. All for remembering that the simple things in life are not to be left behind or forgotten.