Our 2019 Children’s Books of the Year stand out from an increasingly troubling crowd
As modern parents we often find ourselves acting as “event planners” for our kids. We put in countless hours of 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: afternoons that wind up as aimless walks in the woods, quiet reading side by side, or leisurely drives headed no place in particular.
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. 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.
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 (a somewhat wasted Hayley Atwell) and daughter (Bronte Carmichael).
It is at this point that a certain silly old bear senses how much his old friend needs him and returns to Christopher Robin’s life to teach him some lessons that are both counter-cultural and, frankly, stunningly original for a standard Hollywood production. 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 relearn 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. Who more than believers, 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), have 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).
The tubby little cubby and his friends are voiced perfectly and provide plenty of hilarious one-liners. Aside from a mildly frightening sequence that finds Christopher Robin under water imagining a heffalump, it’s hard to imagine 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, moms and dads may 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.