Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017) Review
Winnie the Pooh (also called Pooh Bear), Christopher Robin, and their friends in the Hundred Acre Woods. Just saying those iconic names and place are embedded deep within many childhood memories, filled with tales of youthful wonder and childish imagination. Created by British author A. A. Milne, Winne the Pooh, first debuted in the children’s book Winnie-the-Pooh in 1926 and The House at Pooh Corner in 1928 and followed the adventures of human boy Christopher Robin and the anamorphic animal friends (Winne the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Rabbit, Eeyore, and several others). After the literary and popular success of the books, which was translated in many languages and published across the world, the Walt Disney company bought the licensing rights to Milne’s Winne the Pooh (characters and all) and in 1977 released the animated feature The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh; a cartoon film that was divided into three segments (i.e. Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, Winne the Pooh and the Blustery Day, and Winnie the Pooh and Tiger Too). As to be noted, a fourth segment titled Winnie the Pooh and a Day of Eeyore was released a few years later. As time grew on, Winnie the Pooh became one of Disney’s most popular and iconic characters, spanning years of being a developed character in the company’s illustrious canon, including a syndicated cartoon series (The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh) and several more animated features (2000’s The Tigger Movie, 2003’s Piglet’s Big Movie, and 2005’s Pooh’s Heffalump Movie). However, the success of this classic children’s character goes back to the mind of A.A. Milne. Now, 20th Century Fox and director Simon Curtis present the untold story behind Milne’s beloved creation in the film Goodbye Christopher Robin. Does this newest biopic drama shed light on Winnie the Pooh’s literary inception or does it fail to bridge a cinematic medium to the tale of how Christopher Robin came to be?
Following his time serving in the army during WWI, Alan Alexander Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) attempts to resume his life as playwright in England with his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) by his side, but finds himself traumatized by his war at war and feels disillusioned with the state of things in society’s world. After the birth of their son, Christopher Robin (Will Tilston), Alan (nicknamed “Blue” by his friends and family), wanting a change of scenery, coaxes Daphne into leaving the bustling city life of London behind and to go live out in the countryside with their nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald). Once there, the family adjust to the more “simpler lifestyle, with Milne able to properly resume his writing in their new home. Unfortunately, Alan’s mind forever wanders way from his paper and pen, with his mind restless and distraught. When the circumstances of having to care and watch over young Christopher Robin “Billy Moon, as he’s nicknamed by his parents). Alan finds himself inspired by his son’s imagination and their adventures shared together in the nearby woods, with Christopher’s toy animals. Over time, Alan, along with illustrator colleague Ernest (Stephen Campbell Moore), begins to write stories about a fictional version of Robin and his animals friends (i.e. Winne the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet etc.), who reside in the Hundred-Acre Wood. Within time, Milne’s Winne the Pooh novels become a global phenomenon, offering hope and joy to millions of people and making the Christopher Robin a household name. However, while Alan and Daphne are distracted by the fame and popularity of Pooh’s success, the cost of it all weighs heavily on the real Christopher Robin, who wants nothing more than to spend time with his parents?
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Oh, Pooh Bear…. silly old bear! To be quite honest, I actually never read A.A. Milne’s classic Winnie the Pooh stories. For me, my memories of Pooh and all his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood began with Disney cartooned version of them. I vaguely do remember seeing the original 1977 cartoon feature film (little snippets here and there), but most of my recollection of Pooh and friends would have to be form cartoon TV series The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, which originally aired from 1988 to 1991 and consisted of 50 episodes (82 segments). While I missed the original airing of the show, I do remember seeing it (many times) during its reruns throughout the mid to late 90s on Disney Channel (back when Disney Channel was super cool) and have fond memories of watching the show, following the daily adventures of all these colorful characters within the Hundred Acre Wood. Still, after working at a bookstore for quite some (still currently am), I’ve scan through a few chapters of A.A. Milne’s Winne the Pooh stories (as a collection book) when I pass through the children’s section of the store every now and again, looking at it as a wonderful piece of classic in children literature for many generation past, present, and future.
This, of course, brings my point back to my review for the film Goodbye Christopher Robin, a cinematic biopic drama of Winnie the Pooh author A.A. Milne. Perhaps my full excitement for seeing this movie was the fact that I actually didn’t know much about A.A. Milne to begin with, especially the origins of how Winnie the Pooh initial came about. I didn’t remember hearing that much internet “buzz” about the movie, but I remember seeing the official trailer for the film and immediately fell in love with it. Having a desire to see the movie during its theatrical release, I was shocked to learn that while it was originally supposed to come out on October 13th, 2017 (the US theatrical release date), but the movie only came to theater (the one I usually go to) for about a week in early November. However, I kept on pushing my review for this movie for quite some, choosing some of the more highlighted movies (Coco, Wonder, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, etc.) to review first before this one. So, what did I think of Goodbye Christopher Robin? To be honest, I liked it. Despite some minor bumps, Goodbye Christopher Robin was a very touching and moving biopic drama that sheds some light on the Winnie the Pooh’s origins and the complexed relationship between father and son. Its not exactly a “feel good” movie, but the film gives a sincere gesture of humanity and a cautionary tale of fame and fortune over a person private life.
Goodbye Christopher Robin is directed by Simon Curtis, who previous directed such films like My Week with Marilyn, About Time, and Woman in Gold. Having a knowledge of biopic drama, Curtis delves head first directing this biopic drama on A.A. Milne and how the idea of Winnie the Pooh came to be. For the most part, Curtis succeeds, making Goodbye Christopher Robin a well-intention and well-made feature film that tugs on the heartstrings as well as being an informative piece of shedding light on an author’s creation and the personal gain and loss it had because of it. Curtis also does a good job in bringing a since of sincerity to the film’s proceedings, being careful add excessive scenes and keeps the film a straightforward path with its main principal characters.
At its core, Goodbye Christopher Robin is a cautionary tale of sorts, showcasing the intimate personal loss of having one’s creation spin out of control, despite the fame and success that it brings (something that can affect any person despite the purest of intentions). This can be reflected in other famous writers that were cinematic brought to life (i.e. Saving Mr. Banks and Finding Neverland), displaying the same founding and beloved success in their creation that the entire world celebrated (even in today’s world), but came at a great personal loss, which left quite deep scar on their lives. Goodbye Christopher Robin’s screenplay, which was written by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan, carries that throughout the narrative, progressively unfolding the tale Mr. Milne, Mrs. Milne, Christopher Robin, and Olive (aka Nou). As I mentioned above, I really didn’t know much about A.A. Milne (I assume most viewers didn’t know much about him as well), so I was quite engaged with the film, finding his struggles with PTSD, the creation of Winne the Pooh, and the relationship he had with his son. It was also interesting to see how the real-life Christopher Robin was affected by the success of Winne the Pooh by dealing with his neglectful parents (who are swept up the fame) and being bulled later on as being “that boy from that children’s book”. In truth, Goodbye Christopher Robin is about innocence childhood lost between father and son. It was definitely a moving and touching narrative to tell, one that can speak volumes to many out there, which is where the movie succeeds greatly….as a character study / character piece.
As said above, Goodbye Christopher Robin is a well-made film and crafted beautifully with a mixture of being a period piece and a “storybook” feeling. With the movie being filmed in the English countryside of Oxfordshire, Surrey, East Sussex, and London, the film has that genuine feeling of all its settings, which again has that somewhat English storybook aspect…. if you know what I mean. This is also furthered helped by the film’s head crew members, including cinematographer Ben Smithard (capturing some beautiful shots throughout the film), costume designer Odile-Dicks Mireaux (all the clothes have that “old English” feel and Robbie’s costume looked great on her), film editor Victoria Boydell (the smart edit sequences with A.A. Milne flashbacking back to his wartime through his PTSD attacks), and the film’s musical score, which was composed by Carter Burewell, has a lot of emotional weight within its melodies (be it soft / quiet moments or a dramatic sweep).
There are some problems to arise within the film, which makes Goodbye Christopher Robin from being a truly great biopic film. The first one is that does (at certain times) have trouble juggling its main focus of its principal characters and ideas. Is the movie about A.A. Milne or his son Christopher Robin? Is it an origin story to Winnie the Pooh or is it about the fame that follows? To be honest, the movie is a mixture of all of that and Curtis has some difficulty in trying to iron out all the details for these respective narrative threads. Another problem is (and this might be a minor negative issue with the film) that, despite the film focusing on how Milne came up with the idea for Winnie the Pooh, I was expecting Goodbye Christopher Robin to feature some type of visual effect scenes of the characters coming alive in Milne’s mind (i.e. maybe like a scene with Pooh talking to Piglet or Tigger interacting with Owl). I know that’s not a major deal breaker, but something along that nature that showed the characters come alive through Milne’s imagination (or even through Christopher Robin imagination) would’ve been very cool to see. However, the biggest culprit to the negative points of the film would have to be the film’s third act, which does a time jump in seeing Christopher Robin go from age 8 to age 18 (played by two different actors). While this isn’t a bad tactic, this third act seems rushed and Curtis (along with Boyce and Vaughan) have a difficult time in cramming everything in, especially when this act has a lot of emotional drama that needs to conveyed and invoked. The story drama is there and the actors performing the necessary emotional weight, but the filmmakers present Christopher Robin’s unpleasant plight of growing up in a hurried way by telling us (the viewer) what happened rather than showing us what happened. This makes this particular act problematic and losses some of its impact, which is suppose to be emotional climax of the feature.
The cast in Goodbye Christopher Robin is a small one, but is handled by some talented individuals in bringing these real-life people to life underneath a cinematic presentation. At the head of the pack is actor Domhnall Gleeson, who plays the character of Alan Alexander Milne. Gleeson, known for his roles in Ex Machina, American Made, and Anna Karenina, is great as Alan Milne, crafting a well-rounded portrayal of the famous Winnie the Pooh author that’s part conflicted soldier suffering from PTSD, part writer who suffers from finding his creative “muse”, and part parental figure who wrestles with a complicated relationship with his son. All of this is presented in a touching way and Gleeson is up for the challenge and executes his role of A.A. Milne beautifully. Like Gleeson, young actor Will Tilston is equally fantastic (and believable) in his role as Christopher Robin / Billy Moon. While he’s a relative newcomer to the acting scene, Tilston’s performance feels genuine and honest, capturing a perfect sense of childhood innocence. This, of course, makes his portrayal of Christopher that much more fabulous and endearing as he does a solid job in his role, without a pre-conceived notion of judgement on past works. Additionally, his scenes with both Gleeson and actress Kelly Macdonald (his nanny) are some of the film’s most compelling scenes. Also, it’s worth mentioning that actor Alex Lawther (Howard’s End and Black Mirror) plays the older (age 18) version of Christopher Robin. Unfortunately, while Lawther’s acting is solid in the role, his character of a young adult Christopher Robin comes very late in the film and seems a bit undeveloped in comparison to Tilston’s version. This, of course, goes back to what I said above about Curtis making the film “tell” rather than “show” all the unpleasantries that befell Christopher Robin during his boarding school days.
Behind those two characters is the character for Olive (Christopher Robin’s dutiful / caring nanny) who is played by actress Kelly Macdonald. Known for her roles in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, Brave, and Anna Karenina, Macdonald is great in the role of Olive, offering a gentle and nurturing motherly figure to Christopher than does his actually mother (Mrs. Milne). Additionally, Macdonald is great when she shares the screen with Will Tilston as the pair as good chemistry with each other and feels an emotional connection between the bond of a boy and his nanny. Behind Macdonald’s Olive, is actress Margot Robbie, who plays Daphne de Sélincourt (A.A. Milne’s wife and Christopher Robin’s mother). Robbie, known for her roles in Focus, Suicide Squad, and The Legend of Tarzan, does a good job in playing her part as Mrs. Milne, making Daphne feel like a person (and not like evil stepmother archetype persona) who likes the popular social life over her private family life intimacy. Plus, she’s definitely looks great in all her wardrobe costumes that she’s in. However, of the four main characters of the film, the character of Daphne ends up being pushed aside at times, with the film focusing on the relationship with Alan and Christopher than with her. Thus, Daphne (Mrs. Milne), despite Robbie’s solid performance, is the weakest of the main characters. Lastly, with the exception of actor Stephen Campbell Moore (The Bank Job and A Good Woman) as A.A. Milne’s illustrator colleague Ernest Shephard (E.H. Shephard), the film doesn’t really have a large ensemble in the supporting roles as the movie focuses on its primary characters.
The rare glimpse into author A. A Milne’s life, the creative inception of Winne the Pooh, and the boy named Christopher Robin make up the main narrative fabric in the movie Goodbye Christopher Robin. Director Simon Curtis newest biopic film takes a very interesting and private look into the A.A. Milne creation for Winnie the Pooh and how the “cause and effect” were handled because of this beloved character idea. While the film does have a few missteps (most notable in its third act), the movie is beautiful-crafted, well-intended in revealing its narrative, and well-acted by its small but talented cast. Personally, I liked this movie. It was touching, sweet, informative, and quite a moving film to watch. As for my recommendation, I would give it my “recommended” stamp of approval and would recommend to fans of other biopic dramas out there like Finding Neverland and Saving Mr. Banks. Echoing to what I said earlier in this review, Goodbye Christopher Robin, despite the overwhelming success of Winne the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Owl, and the whole gang in the Hundred Acre Wood (then and now), displays the harsh reality of how one’s man art that touched the lives and heart of many around the world can come at a great personal cost and to the people around him.
4.1 Out of 5 (Recommended)
Released On: October 13th, 2017
Reviewed On: February 4th, 2018
Goodbye Christopher Robin is 107 minutes long and is rated PG for thematic elements, some bullying, war images, and brief language