Goodbye Christopher Robin seems like a deceptively happy film. It’s about Winnie the Pooh and his creator’s family, what could be happier? Except, the story behind A.A. Milne and Christopher Robin Milne isn’t so cheery as the beloved children’s books, and the film misses the mark when it comes to walking that fine line.
Domhnall Gleeson plays playwright and author A.A. “Alan” Milne, home from fighting in WWI and at a loss at how to process the tragedies he’s witnessed. Eventually, he convinces his wife, Daphne (Margot Robbie), to move out of noisy London and head to the idyllic lands of East Sussex with their son, Christopher Robin (Will Tilston), and his caring nanny, Olive (Kelly Macdonald). Here, alone in the countryside with his imaginative son and his stuffed animals, Alan finds the cure for his world-weary blues and creates a series of books modeled on his son and his toys. Wildly successful, he soon realizes that the effects of fame can have dark consequences, especially on young kids.
Goodbye Christopher Robin certainly isn’t subtle with its themes. The countryside is blindingly lush and vibrant, all warm tones and cheery sunshine, which purposely contrasts against dark and grainy war flashbacks or scenes set in dirty, grimy London. Alan also hits extremes. One minute he’s the shaken war vet, the next a reticent famous playwright, the next a warm and imaginative playmate, and the next a cold, distant father more concerned with fame, like his wife, than with the well-being of his son. Director Simon Curtis doesn’t leave much in the way of subtext, with Alan explaining these moods along the way. Cherubic Christopher Robin, or “Billy Moon” as he likes to be called, is almost too pure to believe, while his white-knight nanny, Olive, tries to stand up to her employers as the only one who seems to truly care about the boy.
It’s well known that the real Christopher Robin felt smothered by fame, and resented his father for turning their fun and frivolous playtimes into a booming business that forever equated him with a fictional character. It’s certainly a dark tale, full of intricate relationships and emotions about familial ties and childhood innocences. While Goodbye Christopher Robin tries to tackle such intricacies and ends up with an entertaining-enough film, it just doesn’t succeed at pulling off these intricacies. This is especially evident when the film time jumps to teenage Christopher Robin, going off to fight in WWII and utterly sour and angry (played by Alex Lather). The transformation is jarring, and so quick that it’s hard to buy at all that this is the same child. Especially when some aging makeup fails to make Gleeson and Robbie look like this young man’s parents.
Goodbye Christopher Robin is a valiant effort at a complex and dark tale of childhood and fame. It’s certainly an entertaining film with lush scenery. But in the end, it’s emphasis on the overarching tale misses an opportunity to more deeply explore this broken relationship between a man and his father.