There is very little about Christopher Robin that will surprise you: It’s easy to love, totally charming and “cute” both in the sense your mother means when she sees a movie and what you mean when you see a pug try to reach a shelf that’s just a little too high. It’s quite good, with strong performances and pleasant animation and the appropriate coloring of family-friendly niceties. There is one larger surprise though that the movie brings to mind: How in this complicated world of ideas, the simplest things can still break through and have resonant, transformative power.
Christopher Robin is Disney’s latest live-action adaptation of one of their classic stories. In the wake of Jungle Book, Cinderella, Pete’s Dragon and Beauty and the Beast, Christopher Robin serves as both reimagination of the Winnie the Pooh stories and sensitive nostalgia play. These are the characters you remember—Pooh, Eeyore, Tigger, Piglet and all the rest are the same as they were when you were a kid—in a slightly variant context. In this case, the friends of the Hundred-Acre Wood are traipsing their way into the real world after the titular Christopher Robin. Christopher is an adult now—a stodgy one—and his old friends are here to teach him how to be a kid again.
It’s a classic framework for a heartwarming kid’s movie, but tropes are OK when they’re done well, and that’s the case here. Ewan McGregor is a sympathetic and stuffy Robin and that positions him well opposite the bouncy, cuddly animals. When he loosens up, you buy it. Pooh and co. are total standouts top to bottom. Eeyore’s cynicism is delightful, Piglet will make you snort, Tigger makes you roll your eyes the way you do at an old friend and Pooh … ah, he’s really the star of this one.
It would be a stretch to call Pooh’s dialogue in this movie profound, really, but it’s wise in a striking, funny and unconventional way. You wish you had the presence of mind to write some of it down. “People say nothing’s impossible, but I do nothing every day,” is a bit fallacious, perhaps, but it’s also hopeful in a way that in 2018 is so, so refreshing. As Pooh accompanies Christopher Robin through the real world, his simple questions and polite musings about the way people go about their day is touching, and in a startling sense, convicting. His innocence isn’t naive. It’s pointed.
We’ve seen children’s movies exemplify this “mind of a child” sort of wisdom before, but the packaging around those ideas is often too cartoonish for adults to access. The answer for maturity, then, is to sometimes smuggle it into something deceptively kiddish (Up and Wall-E are good examples of things that looked toddling but played as much more melancholy and real). Parents take their kids but then realize the movie’s as much for them as it is for anyone.
Christopher Robin, however, is quite pointedly and obviously a Christopher Robin story. It’s an adult movie in a literal way. It takes place in London, with real people and real drama. So placing Winnie the Pooh inside that context—a real-world context—and doing so with him as an outsider is key. If this had stayed in the Hundred-Acre Wood it wouldn’t be so perceptive. If it had been through a child’s eyes it wouldn’t have been so universal. If it was anything else, it would be disposable. As it is, it makes a difference.
The culture of ideas is complicated and subjective. People relegate themselves to their own truth and their own viewpoints, and often our solution to that individualization is to go more complex with our philosophies because we think the way to connect with other people is to convince them to agree with us. Of course, the willingness to admit your mistakes or misconceptions is a huge part of empathy, and Christopher Robin touches on that, but what’s greater and smarter is how it taps into the less rote idea of universal truth. This movie has thoughts on the world, simple ones, and that simplicity makes it difficult to argue.
Christopher Robin is not the best movie of the year, or even the best family movie of the year, but its simple aspirations are counter-cultural and its outlook is welcome. You’ll laugh with it and maybe cry over it and more often than not, you’ll be smiling ear-to-ear. This movie’s a comfort, and that assurance lies in its convictions that the world can be, and should be, something greater than the one we feel. Pooh and co. are welcome back anytime.