At what point do we decide something we once loved dearly is too childish, meant to be left forever in the past as we venture forward into the mysterious phase of life known as adulthood?
And why do we, as a society, find ourselves suddenly discouraged from the very expression of imagination that was encouraged in our youth simply because we’ve grown older?
With these questions in mind, I thought it would be fun to explore the importance of embracing your inner child even as an adult within the context of two films that really resonated with me: Christopher Robin (2018) and Unicorn Store (2017). Both of these films have characters at the centre of their narratives – Christopher and Kit, respectively – who feel compelled to leave the magic and whimsy of their youth behind as they immerse themselves within the drab and dreary workplace world inhabited by adults; that is, until their childhood comes calling at a crucial turning point in their lives. Ultimately, it is a return to this perspective of childlike wonder and enthusiasm that allows both characters the capacity for personal growth, as they come to realize important life lessons (albeit in very different ways) and discover they don’t need to lose that part of themselves just because they’ve grown up.
As someone who grew up loving all things Winnie the Pooh, taking plush toys on adventures and creating stories and scenes with plastic figurines, being able to return to the Hundred Acre Wood once again through last year’s Disney film Christopher Robin was a real treat. And yet, it’s a very different experience going back to that childhood playground of imagination now, becoming reacquainted with Pooh and friends through the eyes of a grown-up for the first time – which is exactly what the titular character (played by Ewan McGregor) happens to discover himself. In the film, we see that Christopher Robin has grown up too – no longer a young boy and instead a workaholic adult man, having long since been forced to leave his childhood behind after getting shipped off to boarding school. He’s now got a family he’s too busy to go on holiday with because of his impressive-sounding but incredibly dull job as efficiency manager of Winslow Luggage, all work and no play – and imposing those adult sensibilities upon daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael).
“I haven’t seen you laugh in years,” Christopher’s wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) remarks as he laments his work situation to her. “I want to see you have fun, be silly.” Yet “fun” is a word that no longer seems to exist in Christopher’s vocabulary, for the sad reality is he’s forgotten what it looks like to have it. It isn’t until an unexpected visitor from Christopher’s childhood days – none other than Pooh himself – stumbles back into his life that Christopher learns to do just what Evelyn suggested, and along the way comes to realize what’s truly important to him.
Early on in Christopher Robin, there’s a small moment that occurs as Christopher journeys back to Sussex with Pooh that really stood out to me because of how it subtly emphasizes one of the film’s key themes. While rushing through the train station, Pooh sees someone selling balloons and tells Christopher he would like one. Christopher reluctantly obliges and buys a red balloon for Pooh since it makes Pooh happy, but much to Pooh’s disappointment it ends up accidentally being left behind. Once on the train, Pooh comments on the briefcase he’s noticed Christopher always seems to carry with him, asking him if his briefcase is more important than a balloon. Christopher tells Pooh that yes, it is, but struggles to explain why exactly the briefcase holds such importance beyond the fact it carries important papers, reinforcing the established dichotomy of work vs. play – and that Christopher is squarely on the “work” side of things.
It’s one of the first moments where we see his values called into question, his grown-up rationale under sudden interrogation by his childhood friend. Pooh’s question also gives us pause, encouraging us to reflect inwards and ask ourselves the same thing: which of those items do we value more, and why? Can we still appreciate the joy of a balloon as we did when we were kids, or has it suddenly become far less meaningful to us than the perceived security of a briefcase?
“Was it always this gloomy?” an adult Christopher asks as he looks around the Hundred Acre Wood upon arrival, standing there in a business suit unable to recall his childhood playground being dreary and dark. It’s no coincidence though that the overcast weather there directly reflects his current emotional state – or that it brightens up once Christopher begins to rediscover how to have fun again. After all, “it’s always a sunny day when Christopher Robin comes to play,” as Eeyore says later on.
Since Pooh is the only one of Christopher’s playmates from the Hundred Acre Wood to recognize him upon sight, and the others – Tigger, Piglet, Rabbit, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, and Owl – don’t believe it’s him because they insist Christopher Robin would know what to do, Christopher is forced to embrace his inner child once more. He finds himself pulled back into the realm of imagination as he acts out fighting a Heffalump, swinging his umbrella wildly about and even getting Eeyore to join in on making it believable. For the first time in years, Christopher is playing again – and having a grand time of it. It’s only then that he’s recognized and embraced by the others in the Wood, no longer mistakenly thought to be a Heffalump himself due to his imposing, unfamiliar presence.
When Christopher goes to find Pooh once more before heading back home after the day’s adventures, he discovers him sitting in their special spot, where they used to share many a moment and meaningful conversation.
“I’m lost,” Christopher admits to Pooh. Pooh looks at his friend thoughtfully for a moment before replying.
“But I found you, didn’t I?” Pooh says.
Christopher breaks down as the two embrace, a poignant moment that hits home for us and Christopher alike because of how simple yet true Pooh’s words are. Pooh did indeed find Christopher at exactly the moment he needed to be found, showing up to help him rediscover the imagination and fun that was sorely missing from his life. This is exactly why Christopher’s return to the Hundred Acre Wood turns out to be the best thing that could have happened to him, as when he re-enters the “real world”, he’s able to do so with a fresh perspective on everything.
Not only does Christopher come up with the perfect solution to the presumably impossible problem he was tasked with solving at work, we see he cares much more that his daughter Madeline got back safely from her “expotition” to bring him his important papers than about the papers themselves. Christopher even goes so far as to bring the inventive terminology of the Hundred Acre Wood into his place of business, calling out his boss Giles (Mark Gatiss) for being a “Woozle” during their board meeting. When asked to elaborate, Christopher proudly explains. “A Woozle is a slinking little monster who gets everyone else to do all his work for him,” Christopher says, “and hopes that we forget what’s important in our lives. Our families, our dear friends.” No longer is Christopher going to let the demands of Woozles dictate his life; for the time being, he’s perfectly happy to do nothing except make up for the time he’s missed with his family by taking a long-awaited holiday together. After all, in Christopher’s own words as a young boy, “Doing nothing can lead to the very best something” – a “something” that matters more than any briefcase stuffed with papers ever could.
Not unlike Christopher Robin, the premise of Brie Larson’s directorial debut Unicorn Store seems pretty outlandish on the surface due to its whimsical nature. Kit (Larson), a young woman who has just failed her way out of art school for being a little too expressive and taken a job as a temp at a public relations company, receives a mysterious letter with her name on it inviting her to a place called The Store. After some hesitation (and many more letters sent to her workplace) Kit decides to go there to find out for herself what’s going on, only to be greeted by The Salesman (Samuel L. Jackson). “We sell what you want,” he tells her. “What you need.” And that something turns out to be – what else? A unicorn, which Kit’s always dreamt of having since she was a kid. After all it’s a unicorn store, and that’s just logical, right?
However, Kit is understandably reluctant to buy into the concept at first, as it sounds too good to possibly be true. She’s a business lady now, you see, who buys office supplies instead of art supplies and has breakfasts consisting of grapefruits and flaxseeds and coffee, her whimsy and imagination packed away into boxes. She’s fully intent on starting anew as a more mature version of herself, one who’s determined to make her parents proud. And yet, there’s still a part of her deep within that’s enticed by The Salesman’s offer of unicorn ownership, not wanting to lose out on the opportunity to potentially have her childhood dream realized. All she has to do to prove her worth is be “the right sort of girl” by meeting certain requirements, and that unicorn can be hers… but only if she wants it.
Kit’s newfound desire to meet these requirements and prove herself worthy of owning a unicorn becomes what fuels her to want to put her best foot forward in all aspects of her life, wholly dedicating herself to the cause. From vying for a promotion at PR&R PR to making the effort to bond with her parents, and even befriending hardware store worker Virgil (Mamoudou Athie) in the process, Kit does everything she possibly can to ensure that she’ll be able to give her unicorn a stable, happy home filled with nothing but loving energies. What makes Unicorn Store special though is the direction it takes, as we (and Kit) come to realize that the unicorn itself isn’t actually what Kit needs – and yet, The Store serves its purpose in her life all the same because it helped get her to that point.
When Kit’s boss Gary (Hamish Linklater) asks Kit early on in the film what her goals are, she offhandedly tells him, “I would like not to be a great disappointment.” It’s a sentiment we can all relate to on some level – wanting to do our best to live up to societal expectations and make the people whose opinions we value proud. To Kit, growing up has become synonymous with disappointing people, as the adults in her life simply don’t know what to do with her except stare blankly and shake their heads in disapproval. “I don’t know how to be a grown-up, my parents think I’m insane,” Kit later relents to The Salesman, frustrated by her perceived inability to function successfully as an adult no matter how hard she tries. Indeed, Kit’s found herself in a confusing transitory stage of life as she floats between the worlds of grown-up reality and childhood fantasy, desperately wanting to prove herself in both.
When Kit boldly decides to attempt to bridge those two worlds, her imagination sparked by the glitter trail she accidentally created leading up to the vacuum in her basement, her passion shines through. Here we see Kit at her most Kit-like, brimming with excitement and vibrant colours and lots of sparkle. Just as Christopher returns to imaginative play in Christopher Robin, Kit’s creating once again, making the world her canvas without worrying about what people think. And in her eyes, it’s the perfect solution to the conundrum of the Mystic Vac vacuum presentation she’s been tasked with at work. Unfortunately for Kit however, her pitch to the Mystic Vac team has a far different outcome than Christopher’s proposal to the board of Winslow Luggage. They’re far less willing to entertain whimsical notions, looking at Kit’s glitter-strewn presentation with disdain and casting it aside in favor of women depicted vacuuming the house while clad in nothing but lingerie. Once again, the world doesn’t know what to do with Kit and her larger-than-life ideas – but this time, she doesn’t mind too much. She’s got much more important things to worry about… like getting her unicorn.
“The most grown-up thing you can do is fail at things you really care about,” Kit’s mother Gladys (Joan Cusack) tells her after the two share a heart-to-heart. Kit thinks about this for a moment, contemplating aloud how she’s good at doing just that. It’s the first time she’s able to truly reconcile her inner child with the adult she’s hoping to grow into, realizing that her many “artistic failures” have in fact stemmed from putting herself and her ideas out there in the world time and time again. When she steps out into the backyard one morning not long after, Kit is shocked to see that Virgil and her parents created something beautiful out of the art they rescued from the trash – her art.
“It’s an art show of my life,” Kit marvels, beaming as she looks around. In that moment she believes she isn’t a disappointment or a failure, unlike what she’s convinced herself for so long. She’s a grown-up, learning to navigate the adult world while doing the best she can and being her own unique self. It’s a true turning point for Kit – one that comes in time for her long-awaited unicorn to arrive.
Just as Pooh showed up in Christopher Robin right when Christopher needed him most, helping him approach grown-up problems with a fresh perspective on life, the promise of a unicorn in Unicorn Store was exactly what Kit needed to motivate her to become the best version of herself. When Kit finally finds herself standing in front of the unicorn from her childhood dreams though, looking at him with a mixture of reverence and wonderment while recounting the imaginary adventures they shared, it dawns on her that she doesn’t need him anymore – not like she used to.
In an incredibly touching goodbye that never fails to hit me right in the emotions, Kit flings her arms around the unicorn, hugging him close.
“Thank you forever,” she tells him tearfully. “I’m okay now.” And she means it. Everything the unicorn gave Kit as a child and motivated her to do as an adult has made her who she is, and because of that, she’s now better off. She’s come to realize her self-worth and believe she’s okay, giving us the hope that we will be too – even if right now we’re muddling through the grown-up world ourselves, chasing after our own unicorn.
This is exactly why we need films like Christopher Robin and Unicorn Store – films that exist to transport us back to those carefree days of our youth, reminding us that becoming an adult shouldn’t go hand-in-hand with abandoning cheerful colours for drab shades of grey and always putting briefcases before balloons.
“Everyone needs a little magic in their lives,” Kit tells a room full of business people at one point in Unicorn Store, “even if they’re all grown up.” And it’s true – keeping the magic of childhood alive, ensuring that spark of wonder and excitement and curiosity inside us stays ignited – is what makes us feel alive. Whether we realize it or not, we need to chase after our unicorn dreams and pretend to fight Heffalumps every once in a while. We need to throw glitter in the air and Poohsticks off a bridge, and carve out time within our busy schedules to just have fun, especially with the people we love. Otherwise, our lives would be pretty boring with no sense of purpose or passion to drive them… and we don’t want to be swallowed up by the Woozles of the world, do we?