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Goodbye Christopher Robin – Movie Review

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Goodbye Christopher Robin – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures

A.A. Milne’s stories of a honey-loving bear residing in the Hundred Acre Wood has enchanted many people for close to a century. Disney’s delightful animated adaptations have only added to the immortality of the character and his animal pals. However, Goodbye Christopher Robin does not seek to show the cuddly and warm hearted story of how these books came to be. Anyone with a passing knowledge of the real-life basis for Christopher Robin will know how Milne’s son grew to despise the books and the infamy they brought him. Thankfully, director Simon Curtis does not sugarcoat it. The lack of sentimentality in this film allows it to stand out and take a new angle with the beloved author and his creation.

The film admittedly begins a bit choppy as it rushes through A.A. Milne’s time in World War I, his role in high society and the birth of his son. Nonetheless, the film immediately establishes Milne as a man traumatized and grown cynical by war. This is hardly a charming or sweet depiction of the man and the screenplay is not afraid of showing the treatment he gives his son. His wife Daphne is hardly much better. Christopher Robin, as played by newcomer Will Tilston, immediately gains the audience’s sympathy. Tilston plays his various stages of dealing with fame rather well. While he is given a moppet haircut and little outfits, that also represents an example of how his parents saw Christopher. Yet the script also never hides his more bratty episodes, especially his confusion at his beloved nanny’s actions.

The scenes where Goodbye Christopher Robin most soaks in charm are when the Milnes do bond. Seeing the creation of Pooh, Tigger, Owl and the other Hundred Acre Wood inhabitants does bring a smile. At times, these sequences almost feel like an expansion of the infamous Canadian Heritage Minute so often played on television. There is even the meeting of the Winnipeg black bear that inspired Winnie the Pooh’s name. However, Curtis otherwise avoids much attempt at schmaltz as we eventually segue into Christopher Robin’s disenchantment at his newfound fame. The film ultimately becomes a commentary on child exploitation and one can easily parallel Christopher Robin’s experiences to many a child actor suddenly thrust into the spotlight.

The screenplay also presents some solid themes about growing up and childhood innocence. In seeking to preserve his son’s sense of boyish wonder, Milne instead ends up killing that. Goodbye Christopher Robin shows the dark side of celebrity through these lovable childhood icons. This, thus, becomes an important film to show to children who might have aspirations of fame at a young age as well as presenting a different side to this heavily merchandised franchise. There is an odd bit of manipulation later in the film that nobody with a slight familiarity with the real story will fall for. It presents a conflict that ultimately adds little to the story and puts the focus too heavily on the parents, rather than the child.

Nonetheless, Goodbye Christopher Robin is surprisingly restrained in presenting the making of Winnie the Pooh as a sweet story. When E.H. Shepard isn’t illustrating Piglet into his notepad and Christopher Robin isn’t thinking of cute names for his animals, there is an underlying darkness. One wonders how a Disney film would have handled the material, but it might be for the best we don’t hear any Sherman Brothers songs on the soundtrack. This movie may depict “deep in the Hundred Acre Wood, where Christopher Robin plays”, but those catchy tunes would distract from the necessary message the filmmakers seek to present.

 

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE


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