Disney’s live-action Winnie the Pooh movie, “Christopher Robin,” follows the titular character (Ewan MacGregor) into adulthood and tells the story of how his childhood friends from the Hundred Acre Wood must remind him of the importance of doing nothing.
The movie is beautifully shot, using nostalgic musical motifs and familiar phrases from the original franchise to capture the feeling of continuity between the animated classics and this installment.
The movie opens with the animals of the Hundred Acre Wood throwing a goodbye party for Christopher Robin as he leaves for boarding school, however it does not remain idyllic for long. The audience find out that Christopher has grown up into a workaholic, an absent husband and father with no time for frivolity.
Over the course of a weekend during which his wife and daughter are away at his childhood home, Christopher receives a visit from Winnie the Pooh, who is seeking his help to find the rest of the residents of the Hundred Acre Wood, and goes on a life-changing journey to relearn how to love life and play again.
“Christopher Robin” offers a fascinating examination of the effects of toxic masculinity and adulthood expectations through the lenses of familiar characters, though it is ultimately restricted by the confines of a typical Disney movie.
While at school Christopher receives word that his father has died, and at the funeral, an older relative tells him, “You’re the man of the house now.” This is a sentence that will follow him well into the movie’s present and the most overt example of the pressures of masculinity. Christopher is still a child – a young child who has just lost his father and was presumably not even present for his death – and yet he is being told that he must assume his father’s place as a fully responsible adult.
As an adult and newlywed, Christopher leaves to fight in World War II, leaving behind his wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and missing the birth of his daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael). Shots of Christopher in an active warzone are interspersed with Evelyn and Madeline at home, highlighting the traumatic nature of the experience and how much Christopher is missing.
When he returns, he throws himself into his new job as an efficiency expert at a luggage company and withdraws from his family, fully committing instead to the idea that a grown man should be career-focused and able to provide for his family. This comes at the expense of tension and distance between Christopher, Evelyn and Madeline, but because he has assumed the role he believes expected of him he has also rid himself of the emotional tools he might have used to resolve this conflict. Emotions, after all, have no place in a rational man’s toolbox.
Christopher’s emotional growth throughout the movie is incredibly fulfilling to follow as he discovers that he has become a “heffalump” – a creature that drains happiness from those around it – and strives to improve himself by being a more attentive father and husband.
However, the ending sacrifices realism and a long-term solution to Christopher’s faults for the sake of wish fulfillment and immediate gratification for the audience, as everyone gets what they want: Christopher does not lose his job in spite of losing all of his important paperwork and failing to be present for the entirety of an important meeting, comes up with a spontaneous plan to save the company and gets to tell off his boss in front of the head of the company, while his daughter does not end up having to go to a prestigious but faraway school and his wife gets to have the family vacation she wanted.
It’s true that perhaps Christopher will be able to make permanent this change in himself, but the saccharine ending, though to be expected from a Disney movie, ultimately cheapens the significance of Christopher’s emotional journey.
Cover photo courtesy of Variety.