Mind full of fluff: ‘Christopher Robin’ fails to deliver intelligent story in favor of nostalgic cast of characters

Lauren Trimber, Features Editor

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Oh, bother.

Winnie the Pooh’s classic catchphrase played repeatedly in my head as I watched “Christopher Robin,” a film I had been anticipating for weeks.

Based on A.A. Milne’s characters, “Christopher Robin” almost immediately caught my attention because of my love for the little yellow bear. So, with popcorn in hand and tissues ready in case childhood memories became too emotional, I entered the theater prepared for a wonderful movie.

Instead, I could only think, “Oh, bother.”

Winnie the Pooh fans: brace yourselves. “Christopher Robin” is OK. As much as my affection for Pooh begged me to love the movie, I have to admit I left the theater feeling underwhelmed. It certainly had its strong points, but the movie substituted nostalgia for an engaging plot.

“Christopher Robin’s” derivative plot is undoubtedly one of its largest faults. With older, disenchanted protagonist Christopher Robin trying to navigate the difficulties of adult life while learning to embrace his childhood imagination once again, the movie is nearly indistinguishable from other films that focus on similar topics.

Christopher Robin’s character arc so closely mirrored Peter Banning’s in “Hook” and George Banks’ in “Mary Poppins” that I found myself wondering if Disney is contractually obligated to make a film about a bored man rediscovering his childhood whimsy every few decades.

“Christopher Robin” begins with a young Christopher Robin in the Hundred Acre Wood, where his friends are throwing him a goodbye party before he leaves for boarding school. After spending the afternoon with Piglet, Owl, Rabbit, Tigger, Eeyore, Kanga and Roo, Christopher Robin ends the day with Pooh.

The friends sit together on a log and watch the sunset, promising they will never forget each other. After leaving for boarding school, Christopher Robin is mocked, bullied and, following his father’s death while he is away, slowly starts to lose his imagination and free spirit.

Shown as a montage, Christopher Robin enlists in the army, meets and marries his wife and is employed by a luggage company. As an adult, he is a workaholic who hardly interacts with his family. When he does have time to talk to his young daughter Madeline, their conversations revolve around preparing her to begin at the same boarding school he attended and teaching her the value of work and logic over imagination.

While Christopher Robin prepares to work during a weekend he was supposed to spend with his family, Pooh wakes up in the Hundred Acre Wood and realizes he is alone. Confused over the disappearance of his friends, Pooh wanders through the doorway Christopher Robin used to enter the forest and walks into the real world, where he finds his aged friend in a garden.

After Christopher Robin recovers from the shock of seeing Pooh for the first time in decades, he resolves to take Pooh back to his childhood home in the countryside, which contains another doorway to the Hundred Acre Wood.

Since Christopher Robin’s wife and daughter are spending the weekend where he grew up, Christopher Robin must sneakily reach the doorway to the Hundred Acre Wood with Pooh, who fails at making the journey subtly.

When they reach the doorway, Christopher Robin reluctantly decides to enter and help Pooh find his friends. Collecting his old friends one by one, Christopher Robin gradually regains his imagination as he pretends to fight off the dreaded Heffalumps to convince the others he has truly returned.

After he, Pooh and the other Hundred Acre Wood inhabitants are reunited, Christopher Robin and Pooh share a touching moment on their old log before the former returns to the real world.

Christopher Robin bumps into his family as he leaves the Hundred Acre Wood, which only further disappoints his daughter as he explains he did not come to the countryside to surprise her.

Promising to repair the damaged relationship with his wife and daughter, Christopher Robin rushes to work, unaware that a stack of important documents he needs were left in the Hundred Acre Wood.

In the forest, Pooh and his friends find the documents and resolve to take them to Christopher Robin. Stepping back into the real world, they immediately bump into Madeline, who recognizes them from an old drawing her father made when he was younger.

With the hope that Christopher Robin will not make her go to boarding school if she brings him his documents, Madeline joins the animals on a journey from the countryside to the city. Her disappearance sends her mother into panic, who drives into the city and enlists Christopher Robin’s help in finding their daughter.

Christopher Robin eventually reunites with Madeline, who is upset she failed to keep his documents organized and delivered on time. Realizing his family is far more important than a job he never truly cared for, Christopher Robin promises to be a better father, and he and his family slowly start to rebuild their relationship with the help of their friends in the Hundred Acre Wood.

One of the stranger aspects of the movie is the new appearance of the classic characters. Gone is the clean, bright yellow look of Pooh that older audience members may have grown up with. Instead, Pooh and his friends are given much more realistic appearances, with smaller, beady eyes and fur consistent with that of stuffed animals.

While these new appearances surprised me at first, I found it easy to adjust since many of the vocal actors from earlier “Winnie the Pooh” films and television shows reprised their roles. After the first few scenes with Pooh, I had almost forgotten his new appearance completely.

As I was watching the film, I gradually began to realize nearly the entire plot had been given away by the preview. I was shocked to see the scene in which Madeline finds Pooh and his friends began the film’s climax, since the event was shown in the preview. I found myself waiting for the protagonists to be faced with a new problem or be confronted by a villain, but neither happened. “Christopher Robin” began and ended very quietly, with most of its scenes already having played out in previews shown months before the movie’s release.

Despite the problems I found with the film, I still cannot bring myself to hate it for one reason — the characters.

While Christopher Robin — with his working man personality and inability to connect with his family — is a bit of a stereotype for the genre, the supporting characters were incredibly entertaining.

Pooh’s innocence made him delightful to watch, as he bumbled through the complexities and obstacles of the real world after spending his entire life in the Hundred Acre Wood. The jokes surrounding the stuffed characters were intelligent and often had me laughing out loud.

Where the movie’s writers could have relied on simplistic comedy to get cheap laughter from the younger audience members, they instead chose to make the characters more nuanced. Eeyore’s nihilistic personality worked wonderfully beside Pooh’s boundless optimism as they took the journey into the real world together, while Piglet and Tigger complemented each other well with their vastly different levels of confidence.

Madeline was an interesting character as well, and her desperation to receive her father’s approval resonated throughout the film and made the somewhat anticlimactic conclusion more satisfying.

“Christopher Robin” is a story that has been done countless times before, from both Disney and other studios, but the movie is hard to hate. While there is nothing memorable or hugely interesting about the plot, it is certainly worth watching for anyone who grew up with the classic characters.

Contributed by Paul K/Flickr.com

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