On ‘Christopher Robin,’ ‘Eighth Grade’ and parents making movies about children

Images courtesy A24 and Walt Disney Motion Picture Studios.

2/10 Oh my shitting God, they killed Christopher Robin’s parents too.

Disney’s Christopher Robin starts with the title character (Ewan McGregor, Orton O’Brien as a child) being sent to dreary, grey boarding school and necessarily abandoning his fuzzy friends that he brought to life with drawing and imagination. No sketching allowed in boarding school, I guess. Then, Disney kills his parents – his dad, whatever – breeds him with Hayley Atwell and sends him to die in World War II.

That’s right, this isn’t your dad’s Winnie the Pooh, this is Christopher Robin mother fuckers! We don’t have water colors, we’ve got nightmarish stuffed animals that look like the villain from a James Wan movie! Robin isn’t going to the Hundred-Acre Wood to gaily jaunt about for honey, he’s going to kill fucking Nazis!

Think this is the darkest and grittiest we can do? Think there’s a length we won’t go to chasing a trend that never really was? Wrong! We gave Dumbo to Tim Burton! We hired Lin-Manuel Miranda to bring hip-hop to Mary Poppins!

After failing to die in dreary, grey World War II, Robin returns to dreary, grey London to work as an accountant at a luggage selling company, a dreary, grey character who refuses to make time for his family. Things come to a head when, despite having clearly planned a weekend away for weeks, his boss tells him to find 20 percent of the company’s budget over that exact weekend or have his department full of veterans downsized. His wife threatens to divorce him for canceling. Torn by this choice, somehow, Robin is confronted by the mind-rending horror of his childhood imaginary friend, Snuggle Bear.

Disney’s Christopher Robin is too ugly to look upon and too strange and ill-conceived to look away from, at once an abomination and a train wreck. It is a long nightmare of way too much London fog and possessed stuffed animals and a brutal demonstration of Poe’s Law as it applies to this chain of post- Alice in Wonderland Disney remakes.

Gaze upon them and despair!

Christopher Robin is so basic, so silly, so needlessly horrifying and so impossible to take seriously that it’s barely worth talking about, but there’s one issue I have with it — and it’s an underlying idea that it shares with another really nasty movie that was expanded into wide release that same weekend.

2/10 Eighth Grade follows Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher), who is about to graduate from eighth grade. She publishes video blogs on self-confidence that nobody watches and aspires to become popular and have a boyfriend until she’s pressured into a traumatic sexual experience by an older boy. Then she stops.

I can’t stand coming-of-age stories, and movies like Eighth Grade are the reason why. This kind of movie about children transitioning into adulthood almost always reduces down to a moral of adults being good and children being bad, which makes sense because it’s almost always made by grown-ups and for grown-ups – and you can talk about you want about how the MPAA is fucked and teenagers really do talk a lot about sex, but the fact is this is an R rated movie and nobody is going to see it without supervision from a member of the target audience.

I’d point to The Breakfast Club and Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are as examples of how to make this movie from a more genuine perspective and not as pure exhibitionary condescension, but by-and-large that’s what we see from this type of story. Our young, naïve lead character needs to become more like the mature adult director.

I wanted to talk about these movies together because, outside of their technical elements — unremarkable in Eighth Grade’s case, laughable to nightmarish in Christopher Robin’s — they upset me for essentially this same reason. Every movie makes implicit statements with the world that it portrays, and these assumptions are always worth examining. Both of these movies are made with the assumption that parents are great, which at this point I’m just not so sure about.

In Christopher Robin we see a dead parent used as a surrogate for character development. This is a common and almost always mistaken instinct — firstly, backstory isn’t what makes characters interesting, and secondly, a character’s parents or parent being dead is, one of the least interesting things you could have about them. Everyone’s parents die. They are, necessarily, much older than their children. It happens. A parent’s death often has a dramatic effect on the character internally, but unless that effect is explored, it does absolutely nothing for the story.

When Batman’s parents are dead, it’s a traumatic event that shaped who he became as a person and informs why he does what he does in a way that we understand. But when Christopher Robin’s dad is dead, it’s because of the film’s implicit worldview that parents are good, and that this fact is so obvious that all you need to know about Robin is that one of his parents is dead to know that there’s a significant hole in his life. 

In Eighth Grade, parents are presented in a more directly positive light in the form of a wise father who was right all along. At the end of the movie, Kayla Day’s father Mark (Josh Hamilton) gets to give her a lengthy speech about how being young is a good thing and that everything she’d done throughout the runtime was wrong.

So this movie that’s ostensibly about an eighth grader but marketed toward and only realistically accessible to adults spends the majority of its runtime playing out a variation on every parent’s worst nightmare, then plays out this weird parental power fantasy with the daughter actually listening to her father and him being proven right about everything.

Parents suck. Sometimes they’re OK, but sometimes they start raping you the second you hit puberty. Or before. Sometimes they murder you in broad fucking daylight because Jesus told them to. As a collective, our parents destroyed the planet and the economy, constructed and perpetuate an elaborate lie to convince us it’s our fault, and then elected Donald Trump to salt those earths.

These movies both present a worldview — Eighth Grade is entirely about a worldview — that ignores that. They’re both basic and poorly thought out, but this is what makes them, in my mind, really disturbing.

Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate and managing editor of The Lewisville Texan Journal. If you liked this post, you can donate to Reel Entropy here. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook and reach out to me at reelentropy@gmail.com.

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