Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

I have mixed feelings about this beautifully filmed and emotionally engaging movie, because it cannot seem to decide whether it's a loving tribute to Winnie the Pooh or wants to destroy the sweet innocence of its book fans. As a result, it is three parts sorrow and bitterness to one part beautiful depth and simplicity. If intended as an inspirational story, it should have ended sooner than it did.

Since the great war has drawn to its end, its soldiers flood home, and Alan Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) returns emotionally empty, haunted by memories of the battlefield and bloodshed, and utterly uncertain what he fought and his friends died for. He finds it hard to return to literary work, or to keep up with his socialite wife, Daphne (Margot Robbie), who agrees they should move to the country to help him overcome his writer's block. But, his choice of topics does not please his editors... he wants to write against war.

The country does him well, but it is not until he begins to bond with his neglected son, Christopher Robin (Will Tilston), and the collection of stuffed animals that crowd the nursery, that the spark of imagination returns and his flashbacks start to fade. He gets an idea for a small children's book, about Christopher's bear: formerly named Edward, now called Winnie the Pooh. But as his success grows, so does his son's unhappiness at forever being linked to a drawn bear and his friends in the 100 acre wood.

Had this movie started out as it did, and ended with the bond between a father and son leading into the book's success, it could have been an inspirational story; instead, it progresses from there into the child's future losses, his unhappiness at school, and his anger toward his parents as he matured. Frankly, it was more sad than anything else, and from fact-checking, seems to have exaggerated his poor relationship with his parents. There's also some odd casting choices; Alex Lawther plays the older Christopher and looks nothing like his younger counterpart.

The scenes of father and son bonding, playing in the wood, and his father's friend sketching them, are where the magic of the film truly lies -- and there's some genuinely delightful moments here, such as Milne inviting all the creatures to dine with them at the table, as there's "far too much food for just the two of us." The actors do a lovely job, especially Kelly Macdonald as the nanny (and, arguably, the only person in the house who cares about "the boy"), and the costuming design is lovely. But another thing also stands out; Disney owns the rights to Winnie the Pooh, and refused to allow the filmmakers to use any of his artwork, so we never see the finished product, we never look through the book on screen, and we never see the boy and his bear become the art. And, that makes it a little bit hollow... but also allows me to detach from it, in order to see Winnie the Pooh as a delightful children's story, about little virtues and kindnesses, rather than Christopher Robin as the tragic, exploilted byproduct of a dysfunctional household.

Sexual Content:
None.
 
Language:
A few minor profanities.
 
Violence:
A man has flashbacks to WWI (scenes of people being shot, bombs going off, and flies buzzing corpses), and suffers from PTSD; boys at school are cruel to a child and shove him down the stairs repeatedly as he gets older.

Other:
Depressing themes of absentee parents, capitalizing on a child's success, and resulting  bitterness.