The boisterous woman who sat in the row in front of me gleefully quoted Pooh’s heartfelt maxims, sang along with a Tigger song, and pointed out characteristic idiosyncrasies. I, on the other hand, lacking the requisite childhood memories of Winnie-the-Pooh, remained untouched by the seemingly successful use of nostalgia in the live-action revamp, Christopher Robin. I suspected that my lack of emotional investment in the franchise, a characteristic that would place me outside of what I anticipated being the target demographics: children and former Winnie-the-Pooh enthusiasts, would result in my total detachment from the film. The surprisingly adult-oriented movie, however, brought to light aspects of growing up that extend much farther than the Hundred Acre Wood.
Far from endearing itself to kids, Christopher Robin artistically demonstrates an aversion to being branded a children’s movie. The film is crafted in a dull color palette that would likely repulse or at least gently bore a child and is assembled out of unceasingly striking well-composed shots. The opening scene alone is a deluge of russets, grays, greens, waning sunlight splashing golden on purple flowers, and sepia-toned book pages featuring spindly sketches. The cinematography, down to the camera’s constant mobility contrasted with moments of notable stillness when fixated on stodgy adults, is made for grown-up tastes. Despite the seemingly juvenile subject matter, the film visually asserts that one must first and foremost be an adult in order to appreciate it.
In terms of content, the plot of Christopher Robin follows the anticipated, campy trajectory, seemingly appealing to children and sentimental adults. Robin has lost himself, bogged down with work and responsibility, until Winnie-the-Pooh’s unexpected arrival in London forces Robin to return to his childhood refuge—the Hundred Acre Wood. The PG adventure, featuring nothing more harrowing than fog or imagined predators, ultimately reconnects Robin to his family, makes him a triumph at work, and apparently demonstrates the importance of remaining a child at heart. Yet, upon a closer look at the gleeful red-sweater-clad man-child traipsing around the Hundred Acre Wood in the final scene of the film, very few aspects of childhood have really been restored to him.
Robin gains the ability to allot time to his family, as long as he is wholly secured with lucrative, steady employment. Robin jokingly fights off the imaginary enemies of the childlike stuffed animals only out of paternal good will. He affably passes along his friends from the Hundred Acre Wood for his appropriately aged daughter to play with. Despite the stark difference from the suit-wearing curmudgeon cleaning up after Pooh in his London home, the majority of the childlike characteristics adopted by Robin (creativity and leisure to do nothing instead of something) are largely superficial—acted upon in order to please the children or likely to be swept away by the inevitable stress of an office.
The sole component of childhood appropriated into Robin’s adult life without qualification is that which arises from the statement repeated to him multiple times throughout the movie: “But you’re Christopher Robin.”
To understand the value of this declaration, I thought back to my childhood. Though as a child I loved adventures, as most kids do, I could only fathom embarking upon one from inside the impenetrable fortress of my covers. Terrified at the prospect of witches and monsters and peril, I would pray to escape the fates suffered by Lyra of The Golden Compass or Lucy Pevensie of The Chronicles of Narnia. Though both emerged from their escapades victorious and unscathed, I could not imagine myself similarly prevailing.
Although at the time I figured that such fanciful cowardice would have a negligible impact on real life, I find that even today I doubt my competency. When confronted with a task, I question my capacity to complete it successfully, with every new challenge presenting a momentary paralysis that must be consciously overcome. In retrospect, it has become clear to me, as it seems to have become to the creators of Christopher Robin, that children are given adventurous content to consume not only for its faculty of holding their attention more easily than a romance or drama, but for the sake of teaching them to trust their own abilities.
The film tracks Robin as he internalizes the oft-repeated assertion, “But you’re Christopher Robin.” His recognition of the total, unwavering faith his childhood friends have in him and his own mounting belief in their veracity renders an adventurer with whom even the most fearful former-children may identify and an aspect of childhood that may be maintained even through the weary work day. This movie, though ostensibly aimed at childhood Winnie-the-Pooh fans and current children, palatably bestows upon an entire adult demographic the messages they may have missed due to fear when they were kids themselves. For, in the non-threatening adult world, to be Christopher Robin is to hear your own name and know it as being synonymous with your ability to squarely confront the world—and succeed.