Design by Jennie Vang

I was an anxious kid. It sounds like the beginning of a bit, but it’s true. I was anxious about a lot of things. Sleep was a big one: I would spend a lot of nights thinking about how I wasn’t falling asleep, which in turn made it harder to fall asleep. I was plagued with other irrational anxieties — that no one liked me, that my family would forget about me, that something catastrophic would completely upend my life.

Like a lot of kids, I watched Winnie the Pooh when I was little, specifically the 2003 spinoff film “Piglet’s Big Movie.” I remember being most captivated not by Pooh or Tigger or Christopher Robin, but by Piglet, the small, anxiety-ridden stuffed pig. And it wasn’t until more recently that I understood why.

In 2000, there was a study published in a Canadian medical journal positing a theory that “diagnosed” all of the Winnie the Pooh characters, showing that they could all be representations of various psychological disorders. According to the study, Pooh and Tigger both had forms of ADHD, Eeyore suffered from dysthymia (depression), Owl was dyslexic and Rabbit had a form of what might be narcissistic personality disorder. Piglet, of course, was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder.

The study was mostly done as a tongue-in-cheek thought experiment, but there is certainly truth to some of the claims. When I first learned about this in my introductory psychology class, I found myself overwhelmed by a feeling of comprehension. This was why I had always felt so connected to Piglet. We saw the world in a similar way, and we shared some of the same anxieties.

It’s true that it’s a little strange to be so drawn to a character whose catchphrase is “Oh, d-d-dear!,” but I know that I’m not the only one. Piglet is not flashy like Tigger, adorable like Roo or silly like Pooh. And yet there’s something so relatable about him and his fears that it makes grown adults put their hand over their heart and affectionately evoke his name. He is beloved by many, including me.

In many Winnie the Pooh stories, Piglet is overshadowed; in “Piglet’s Big Movie,” though, he finally gets a chance to shine. “Piglet’s Big Movie” follows the crew of Pooh (Jim Cummings, “Christopher Robin”), Tigger (also Cummings), Rabbit (Ken Sansom, “The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh”), Eeyore (Peter Cullen, “Transformers: The Last Knight”) and Roo (Nikita Hopkins, “Pooh’s Heffalump Movie”). The group, thinking they’ve lost Piglet (John Fiedler, “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh”), start following a scrapbook of memories to give them clues as to his whereabouts and end up reminiscing on the memories themselves. It’s true that it’s riddled with plot holes (Piglet is supposedly also looking for his friends, and they somehow never run into each other at all — the Hundred Acre Wood isn’t that big, is it?), but it’s a kid’s movie that packs a more emotional punch into a short 75 minutes than most movies pack into a full runtime. Also, it has adorable, catchy songs by ’70s folk queen Carly Simon.

I watched this movie a lot as a kid, and I always loved it. In some ways, it’s a very goofy movie; my sister and I loved quoting our favorite lines at each other because some of them are so comically random and randomly comical. But the other half of the film’s emotional impact is the focus on Piglet’s anxieties and on the way that his friends neglected him. To this day, this movie makes me cry every time I watch it.

There’s a running theme throughout the movie that Piglet is “too small.” Piglet’s smallness is a reason that they leave him out of some of their wild antics; it’s the reason that they instantly jump to the conclusion that Piglet is in trouble once they can’t find him. Piglet is made to believe that his size means that he isn’t a helpful or useful friend to rely on. But with the musical number “If I Wasn’t So Small,” he starts doing a bunch of small deeds — helping a ladybug cross to another plant, helping a squirrel get a “haycorn” and helping a bird get back to its nest. That’s all it takes to reverse his mindset — he can be helpful. And when he thinks that his friends are in trouble, he sets aside all of his anxieties to go after them.

His friends, however, take longer to come around. Throughout the film, as they move through the memories, there’s a recurring thread of Piglet’s deeds getting overshadowed or the credit for his work getting stolen by someone else. And Piglet usually just accepts it. There’s a moment of “b-b-but,” but in the end he always smiles and lets his friends have their moment: He just wants other people to be happy. It’s not until they’re running through the stories again that they realize everything he has done for them and how they never let him know how much they love and respect him.

For me, the emotional pinnacle hits in the third act of the movie. Pooh and co., trying to stay out of the rain, have returned to Piglet’s house, dejected. They’ve lost the scrapbook, and they’ve lost hope of finding Piglet. A poignant Carly Simon song, “The More I Look Inside,” plays as the crew laments their inability to find their friend and that they had failed to appreciate him before now.

And then everything begins to flip. They start to draw their own pictures in the style of Piglet’s scrapbook: stories of times that Piglet helped them. They draw him as a knight, an explorer, an adventurer — not someone meek and anxious, but someone bold and confident. But in my most recent rewatch, the part that made me cry the most was when cranky, cantankerous Rabbit held up the picture he’d drawn of him and Piglet, with two beautiful, simple words: “My friend.”

At the end, when Piglet returns to his house to find all of the drawings that his friends have made for him, his eyes fill with tears. So do mine. Because in the eyes of his friends, he isn’t small — he’s big, and brave, and bright.

All these years later, there are three main things that I learned from “Piglet’s Big Movie” that have stuck with me:

1. Don’t take your friends for granted. A true friend will do things without being asked, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t appreciate them.

2. A small act of kindness is just as generous as a large one. Taking a small part of your day to make someone’s life easier is gratifying, whether you get recognition for it or not.

3. Being anxious doesn’t mean that you can’t be brave. Being small doesn’t mean that you can’t be a hero.

When it comes to empathy, we usually talk about trying to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, trying to understand someone else’s emotional experience from their point of view. For me, “Piglet’s Big Movie” was never really about empathy, because it was already something I connected with. I saw Piglet’s anxieties and saw my own. I saw him left out by his friends and was reminded of some of my own friendships. I saw him keep trying to be seen, to love and be loved, and I related. And when I saw Piglet push through his fears to help his friends, I felt like that was something I could do too. I could also be brave, even when it scared me.

What the movie gave me, then, was not empathy, but the ability to translate the emotions I was feeling into my own life. It pushed my emotional growth. It pushed me to understand parts of what I was feeling and that I was not the only one who felt this way. Learning to be helpful, to do my part, no matter how small I feel, is essential to how I see the world. Because if I can help a friend, or hold the door, or do something brave, the world feels a little less big, and I feel a little less small.

Daily Arts Writer Kari Anderson can be reached at