Film review: Christopher Robin

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Friday, August 3rd. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It, Megan Basham finds delight in Christopher Robin, released today in theaters everywhere.

MEGAN BASHAM, FILM CRITIC: As modern parents we often find ourselves acting as “event planners” for our kids. We put in countless hours at work so we can afford to create memorable moments—like trips to expensive theme parks and elaborate family vacations. What we don’t often give our kids is nothing. That is, the sweet, simple pleasure of having no plans at all that wind up as aimless walks in the woods, quiet reading side-by-side, or leisurely drives headed no place particular.

AUDIO: What to do, what to do. What to do, indeed. Pooh!? Christopher Robin! No! No, no, no. You can’t be here.

Though he claims to be a bear of “very little brain,” in his new movie (and it is his movie, never mind the title) Winnie the Pooh reminds us of this very great bit of wisdom—doing nothing often leads to the best kind of something.

Of course, a workaholic father receiving a reminder about what’s really important in life has been done time and again. But there’s a reason certain storylines continue to resonate. And this one cuts a surprisingly fresh path through well-trod ground.

AUDIO: We should be working this weekend, Robin. I promised my wife and daughter I’d take them away this weekend. All hands on deck. You won’t be coming to the cottage? Well, it can’t be helped. Life is happening now. Right in front of you.

The idea of success as a virtue is so pervasive in Western culture. Many of us feel guilty that we’re not doing enough to achieve our best life now. Mantras for achievement can motivate in positive ways, but they can also grind down our peace and contentment.

AUDIO: Pooh, do you think you might be able to amuse yourself for awhile? I have a certain pressing amount of work to do. House. Clouds. House. Tree. Bush. A man. Dog. Pooh? What are you doing? Oh, I’m playing a game. It’s called say what you see. Well, could you say what you see a little more quietly? House. Grass. Trees.

Once he leaves the serenity of boyhood behind, a grown up Christopher Robin (winningly played by Ewan McGregor) finds himself being crushed by a doozy of a mantra. “Are you a sinker or a swimmer?” his employer asks in a poor (but sadly familiar) attempt to inspire. Christopher, who clearly understands that sinker is synonymous with loser, mumbles that he wants to say he’s a swimmer. But of course he doesn’t feel confident about that because…well…how many of us truly do, deep down? He does put on a show of having an impressive forward stroke, however, logging countless extra hours at the office, alienating his wife and daughter.

It is at this point that a certain silly old bear senses how much his old friend needs him and returns to teach him some lessons that are both counter-cultural and, frankly, stunningly original for a standard Hollywood production.

AUDIO: Look, you can’t just keep saying hello to people. People can’t see you moving and talking. But why? Because, because you’re different and people don’t like things that are different. So, I shouldn’t be me. No, no. You should always be yourself. This is very confusing. It may be the hunger. You’ve just eaten. Oh, that’s right. Maybe I didn’t eat enough. Look, never mind about that. For now, just try to be a less exuberant you. Ex-pooh-berant. Flop. Sag. Go limp.

You see, Pooh doesn’t show up to teach Christopher Robin to be more confident in himself or even, so much, to value his family more than work. Christopher does learn this second thing in the process, but it’s not the main point. The main point is for him to re-learn what came naturally to him as a boy—taking joy in life divorced from any particular achievement.

It’s a Christian message if ever there was one, though the screenwriters may not have known it. Believers are blessed to have a Father who urges us to cast our cares on Him and promises to make our paths straight if we in all our ways acknowledge Him (Proverbs 3:6). Who has better reason to sit back and enjoy a blissful afternoon of nothing, free from fear or guilt?

Aside from the lovely, iconoclastic theme, Christopher Robin is simply a warm, fuzzy hug of a film that the whole family can enjoy (though the very young may get a little squirmy until animals start talking).

AUDIO: Maybe we should ask if anyone has seen a bear or a tigger or a very small donkey. Darling, these creatures aren’t real. Listen, I will call Dr. Cunningham on Monday. I think with the right amount of rest — Oh! Tigger! Eeyore! Piglet! Ah. My plan worked. I don’t know how I do it. You must be Christopher Robin’s wife. How do you do?

The tubby little cubby and his friends are voiced perfectly and provide plenty of hilarious one-liners. Honestly, aside from a mildly frightening sequence that finds Christopher Robin under water, imagining a heffalump, it’s hard to see why the movie is rated PG rather than G. It’s possible I missed something, but I caught nothing to concern parents and quite a bit that will delight them.

Fair warning though, there’s a good chance moms and dads will find themselves shedding a tear over the fleetness of childhood as young Christopher Robin says goodbye to his playmates in the Hundred Acre Wood. If you’re one of them, just remember this other bit of Pooh-inspired wisdom: How lucky we are to have these little people in our lives, who make watching them grow up so hard.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Megan Basham.

(Laurie Sparham/Disney via AP) This image released by Disney shows Ewan McGregor in a scene from “Christopher Robin.” 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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