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Dan's Review: Childhood innocence, war, fame at odds in "Goodbye Cristopher Robin"

Oct 27, 2017 11:25PM ● Published by Dan Metcalf

Domhnall Gleeson and Will Tilston in Goodbye Christopher Robin - © 2017 Fox Searchlight

Goodbye Christopher Robin (Fox Searchlight)

Rated PG for thematic elements, some bullying, war images and brief language.

Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Will Tilston, Alex Lawther, Kelly Macdonald, Stephen Campbell Moore, Richard McCabe, Geraldine Somerville, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Richard Dixon, Shaun Dingwall.

Written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Simon Vaughan.

Directed by Simon Curtis.

GRADE: B+

REVIEW:

Who doesn’t love Winnie the Pooh? The bear of very little brain has a lot of appeal worldwide, capturing childlike innocence and imagination like no other literature. A.A. Milne’s powerful work is the subject of Goodbye Christopher Robin, starring Domhnall Gleason, Margot Robbie and newcomer Will Tilston as the son of the famed author.

The story begins with Milne’s struggle with PTSD following World War I, and his attempts to return to his life as a successful London playwright. He falls in love with and marries the beautiful Daphne (Robbie), who bears him a son they name Christopher Robin, but known them as “Billy Moon.” A nanny named Olive, or known as “Noo” (Kelly Macdonald) comes into Christopher’s life and immediately shows him the love and affection he lacks from both his parents; his father, suffering from the horrors of war is cold and distant while his mother seems more preoccupied with her social status than she is to nurturing. When Daphne and Noo alone with his father over several days, the pair bond as Billy Moon introduces Milne to the imaginative world surrounding his stuffed animals and their adventures in the woods near their Sussex home. Milne uses his son’s toys and ability to see the world through innocent beauty. The effect is therapeutic to the troubled author and he is inspired to write children’s literature based on his son’s relationship with his stuffed pals, including a yellowish bear they name “Pooh,” the smallish “Piglet,” the rambunctious “Tigger,” the always-depressed donkey “Eeyore,” the wise “Owl,” and the nurturing mother “Kanga,” along with her child, “Roo.”

For Billy Moon, the books and poems are part of a game he plays with his father, giving him comfort and joy. When the books become famous, Billy Moon is swallowed up in fame, losing any semblance of privacy, a situation that also forces him to assume the role of “Christopher Robin” of the books, rather than his father’s son. The price of fame follows Billy throughout his life, causing him so much pain that he enlists to fight in World War II as a teenager (played by  Alex Lawther), causing his father to experience extreme guilt and open up his own war wounds. The pair eventually reach some sort of truce, calling back to their perfect days spent in the Hundred Acre Woods.

Goodbye Christopher Robin is successful in capturing Milne’s work as an inspiration to seek the beauty of childhood innocence, even as the horrors of war and scars of battle seem insurmountable. It is presented well cinematically, with great performances from Gleason and Tilston in his debut film appearance. Robbie’s performance is also well-played, even though it’s difficult to figure out whether her character is worthy of any sympathy, showing great compassion at times and self-serving avarice in others. Kelly Macdonald is the standout among the adults in the film, both in her performance and the way she portrays the only person who really cares for the boy.

The troubling aspect of Goodbye Christopher Robin is its duality between coping with PTSD and the trauma of fame for a boy unequipped to handle such pressures. There’s also an element of child abuse going on in the film, and all the convenient cinematic closure between Billy Moon and his dad seems a little forced.

All discrepancies and historic license aside, Goodbye Christopher Robin will resonate with legions of “Pooh” fans who draw inspiration from the bear of little brain, his stuffed toy pals and the boy who bore the burden of being the fictional Christopher, instead of the real “Billy Moon.” 

 

Goodbye Christopher Robin Trailer

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