Kernel Rating (out of 5): (3 out of 5)
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 107 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 10+. This drama/origin story of the Winnie the Pooh character focuses on the intrafamily dynamics of the Milnes, specifically father and author A. A. and his son and book subject, Christopher Robin. There is some familial fighting, some parental neglect, and a child’s temper tantrums. War is also a central theme, with flashbacks to A. A.’s time in World War I, with scenes in the trenches, explosions, and other suggestions of violence and suffering, and World War II is also discussed, with characters preparing for bombings. Also some scenes of a married couple kissing and in bed together; adult characters drink alcohol; one off-hand remark about “defending” a woman’s “honor” against invading German forces; a child is bullied for years, both physically and verbally; and a few fights between a married couple and two women, with insults traded.
‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ is a tightly crafted, beautiful-looking, emotionally involving film that also happens to be mostly untrue. It will move you, but what if the revelations you’re crying over didn’t actually happen?
By Roxana Hadadi
Some movies fall apart after you seriously think about them afterward. The initial excitement of a blockbuster you waited months to see may fade after a few weeks, or maybe a particular performance rubs you the wrong way. But something a little different is happening with “Goodbye Christopher Robin,” the allegedly based-on-a-true-story origin of the Winnie the Pooh character and the dramatic impact he had on the Milne family who created him. This is a film that is b
eautiful, life-affirming, and moving, but even a cursory bit of research afterward will inform you that most of what you just saw didn’t happen. What then?
There is an inherent expectation, when a film claims to be based in reality, that the broad strokes are what actually occurred. If a film has to make major narrative changes that seem to alter the truth of the situation to adapt it to the big screen, then that promise to the audience—that unspoken understanding of the truth—is forfeit. And that is unfortunately what “Goodbye Christopher Robin” seems to do, altering key components of the Milne family dynamics to deliver a happier, more family-friendly film. It’s a disingenuous move for a film that otherwise has a stellar cast, explores the swell of pacifist thinking that developed in the U.K. after World War I, and captures the collective nostalgia tied to Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore, and the other inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood. The rejection of the truth casts a shadow over all of it.
“Goodbye Christopher Robin” focuses primarily on the soft-spoken but charming writer A. A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson, of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”), nicknamed Blue by his vivacious, blunt wife Daphne (Margot Robbie, of “Suicide Squad”). Recently returned from the World War I front, Milne is having trouble re-adjusting to civilian life (loud crowds make him uncomfortable; popped champagne corks remind him of explosions) and few seem to understand the lasting effects of his trauma: “Ready to put a smile back on our faces?” an older man ignorantly asks at a party, and Milne’s disgust with his flippancy is clear.
Unsure of whether she really knows her husband anymore, Daphne encourages him to recommit himself to writing plays, which Milne does successfully for a little while. But their glitzy, social life fundamentally doesn’t appeal to him anymore, and so he moves the family out to the countryside, to Daphne’s disappointment. And things between the pair grow even more strained with the arrival of their son, Christopher Robin (in youth, the tremendously dimpled Will Tilston; in adolescence, Alex Lawther, of “The Imitation Game”), whom Daphne had desperately hoped would be a girl. So the raising of Christopher Robin, whom the family calls Billy Moon, is relegated to a nanny, Olive (Kelly Macdonald, of “Anna Karenina”), whom becomes completely attached to the boy. Billy Moon may understand that Blue and Daphne are his parents, but Olive is his best friend and his entire world.
Well, aside from his teddy bear, and some other stuffed animals that Daphne gives him, a small pig and a donkey and a tiger. And when Daphne leaves her husband and son behind to go back to London, and when Olive has to care for her ailing mother, Blue and Billy Moon are left on their own in this house in the woods. Inspired by his son’s fantastical adventures with his bear, Blue starts to write a different kind of book—one for children—that is very different from anything he’s done before. And when the novels explode in popularity, becoming an international sensation, how all that attention affects Billy Moon, Blue, and Daphne threatens to tear the Milne family apart.
First and foremost, “Goodbye Christopher Robin” looks beautiful and inviting: Gleeson and Robbie look impressive together, everyone’s outfits are crisp and exquisite, and the Milne home and its surrounding woods are often filled with golden, gauzy light. The stuffed animals that become Winnie and his friends look soft and fluffy, and the film incorporates the sketches of Milne’s friend and illustrator, E. H. Shepard (Stephen Campbell Moore, of “The Lady in the Van”), to show how the characters progressed over time. In so many ways, “Goodbye Christopher Robin” addresses the details of these books and explains how they came to be, and that sort of secret-sharing is satisfying for even casual Winnie the Pooh fans.
But still, all the changes in the story add up. The marriage between the Milnes is presented in a cheerier way than the historical record describes; Gleeson and Robbie give rounded edges to people who, in real life, seemed far pricklier; Billy Moon’s motivations are moved around in ways that are in direct contrast to interviews the man himself gave during his life; and the ending! The ending serves to provide a redemptive spin to a story that didn’t really have one, and the falseness of that is deeply infuriating. “Goodbye Christopher Robin” is a tragedy, one that happens every day all around the world with families who just can’t work out their problems, but the filmmakers refuse to acknowledge that truth—and harm their own film with their denial.
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