Lessons of Christopher Robin, Pooh

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Summertime is vacation time, but this can prove especially difficult if you’re trying to travel as a family.

I am sure there is a math prize waiting for whoever can explain why travel plans grow exponentially more impossible with every person added to the group.

At such times, life has a nasty way of presenting us with a clash between irresistible family ties, and immovable work objectives.

This is the situation facing Ewan McGregor at the beginning of the newly-released film, “Christopher Robin.”

As the title character, McGregor plays a fictionalized, grown-up version of the little boy who appears with Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger, and other presumably stuffed animals in the books written by A.A. Milne and illustrated by E.H. Shephard.

Through the device of a charming opening animation, we learn that this version of Christopher Robin has left his toys behind and gone to boarding school at the age of 8 or so; lost his parents; gotten injured in World War II; married; and become the drabbest of middle managers at Winslow Luggage Company in London.

Christopher Robin survives all this, but something inside him does not. He has become someone who doesn’t even have time to read a bedtime story to his 8-year-old daughter Madeline (played by the enchanting Bronte Carmichael).

Then it gets worse. His wife and daughter are all packed for the vacation he’s been promising them, when he learns he must devise a plan by Monday, to slash company expenses a whopping 20%, or see himself and his whole division out on the street. His family ends up leaving town without him.

Christopher sits, completely overwhelmed, on a park bench in London. That is where, somehow, his childhood playmate Winnie The Pooh comes to find him. Eventually, most of the other characters tumble into real-life London, as well.

Perhaps Winnie and company have sensed, all the way from the Hundred Acre Wood, that their boy needs them; or perhaps, faced with insurmountable pressures, Christopher simply lets his mind go slack for a little while.

If the latter, it turns out that that’s not always a bad strategy for problem-solving. There are countless efficiency experts — from my mother to Sigmund Freud — who insist that sometimes the best way to start solving a problem is to step away from it.

Ewan McGregor does quite a decent job of playing the harried adult. Of course, he’s no Obi-Wan Kenobi here — at no time could you see him saying “These are not the stuffed animals you are looking for!” — but you do feel how he is torn between equal and opposite demands.

In fact, what we have here is a cinematically-enhanced case of every working mom’s nemesis: Work/Life Imbalance! And I have to say, it was completely refreshing to see a man trying to deal with it, for a change.

I remember trying to conduct a conference-call from home while at the same time feeding my toddler a mac-and-cheese that he vociferously didn’t want. Later, I described the experience to my husband as being something like shuffling a deck of cards, “if in one hand you’re holding half a deck of cards, and in the other hand you have a squid.” I proved unequal to the task, and left the work world for a job raising squid.

This film is no “Mission Impossible,” but the ensuing hi-jinks are enough to entertain all but the worst adrenaline junkies in your family. In the end, we learn — along with Christopher Robin — the crucial lesson that money, and work, and similar grown-up concerns, aren’t the only measure of life.

Usually, it is parents who take their children to see movies like “Christopher Robin,” featuring childhood favorites like Winnie The Pooh. This time, however, I think the shoe — or the rubber boot — is on the other foot. It is the children who should make sure they get their grown-ups to see it. Hopefully, there will still be time for us to re-learn how to play…before the summer is over.

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