The author and his—wait, no (Disney)
According to my parents, my dad was reading Stephen King’s “Christine” when they decided that the name for the homicidal muscle car would be perfect for a baby girl. I showed up instead, and began a lifetime of identical conversations with teachers, bullies, bank tellers, customer service representatives, doormen, cops, and bartenders, about how I wasn’t that Christopher Robin, but ha ha, yes, I do seem to recall a famous character by that (very similar) name.
While I’m the one with the “funny” name, we are all supposed to identify with Ewan McGregor’s Christopher Robin, a harried middle-manager stuck in capitalism’s cruddy craw. After serving in World War II, he takes a proper job at a massive corporation and settles down to make his boss money at his family’s expense. He neglects his wife (Hayley Atwell), he reads boring accounts of British imperialism to his daughter before she fakes sleep (Bronte Carmichael—now that’s a name) and he is generally a whiny, miserable human being.
When his boss asks him to skip the weekend with his family in the country and work instead so that he can come up with a way to reduce costs at his luggage division by 20 percent, he meekly submits, parrotting his manager’s idiotic, Office Space-ian motto: “Dreams don’t come for free.”
But wait, wasn’t there a time when his only daily concern was how many miles he would aimlessly traipse through an imaginary forest with his supernatural band of live and stuffed animals? The movie cuts back and forth between London and the Hundred Acre Wood, where Winnie the Pooh senses a kind of a disturbance in the Pooh Force. The bear can’t seem to find his friends, and resolves to locate the only person who can, his dear old pal Christopher Robin.
Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings, who will be recognized by my millennial cohort of cartoon watchers) then proceeds to barge into Christopher Robin’s life and ruin everything—not gleefully, because as Pooh puts it, he is a “bear of very little brain,” but innocently. This parade of destruction got the biggest laughs from the kids in Williamsburg Cinemas, and knowing, weary glances from wrung-out parents who recognize it all too well.
The CGI is very good, but there is something deeply strange and hilarious about Pooh, who is a stuffed animal with the dead, beady eyes of a great white shark slow-mo tearing at a hunk of flesh, delivering his classic koans (“People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day”) and unintentionally skewering the dreary notions of human progress (“Why is he in a cage?” Pooh asks Christopher Robin of the train station ticket-taker). When our exasperated protagonist insists that “there’s more to life than balloons and honey,” it’s all too obvious how wrong he is.
Stare into the abyss (Disney)
The rest of the movie is about Christopher Robin realizing this (peppered with some amazingly depressing asides from Eeyore). He squeezes his fat, adult ass through the magic tree, saves his childhood friends with a flash of imagination and self-awareness, and wins back the love of his family. He comes so tantalizingly close to quitting his stupid job, but instead saves capitalism by expanding it, in an ending that feels like a rush job by the three screenwriters who realized at the last minute that a children’s character that rakes in $5 billion a year probably shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds it. But I have seen worse children’s movies!
Disney’s tagline for the film is “Sooner or later, your past catches up to you,” which is a really creepy way of saying, “Don’t forget what it’s like to be a child,” which is a terribly cheesy way of delivering the equally cheesy truism, “Live your life with empathy and curiosity and kindness.” As much as I loathe having The Conversation every week, reminders like these are useful, and I doubt I would have seen Christopher Robin had I been given the option to name myself Victor or Cass or The Hot Guy From Trainspotting. And though The Conversation is almost maddeningly repetitious, on one occasion a bartender in Austin did switch things up by telling me that I have a “terrible name” and giving me a free beer. Thanks, Mom and Dad (and Stephen King).