Goodbye Christopher Robin, 2017, 3 ½ stars

Bearly magical

Milne biopic has enough charm to overcome flaws

Image copyright D.J. Films / Fox Searchlight Pictures

Exclusive to MeierMovies.com, October 26, 2017

Peter Pan creator J.M. Barrie was a contemporary of Winnie the Pooh author A.A. Milne, so a comparison of Marc Foster’s Finding Neverland, from 2004, and the new Goodbye Christopher Robin is inevitable thanks to similar themes and subjects. Unfortunately, the first film is vastly superior, but the latter is still one of the sweetest movies you’ll see in 2017.

Set mostly in England in the late 1920s, when Milne was creating his tales of the Hundred Acre Wood – filled with the immortal Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Kanga, Roo and Eeyore – this is a tale not just of childhood celebrated but childhood denied, even violated. For the real Christopher Robin, Milne’s son, wasn’t able to enjoy the characters like everyone else. (The characters were based on his real toys, in addition to a real bear at the London Zoo.) Indeed, as he grew up, his fame made it difficult to lead a normal life, and his relationship with his parents grew strained.

“Who would have guessed that bear would swallow us up?” the elder Milne laments.

The Winnie the Bear statue at London Zoo. (Photo by Cameron Meier.)

But Goodbye Christopher Robin is not a tale of remorse. At its heart – and it has tons of it (some earned, some forced) – it’s a story of innocence and family. Surprisingly, it’s also an anti-war film, as Milne suffered severe shell shock from his service in World War I and wanted nothing more than to see his son’s generation spared from the next great conflict. The juxtaposition of the Milne family story with the tale of England’s history between the wars is sometimes ungainly, and director Simon Curtis’s film is never quite sharp enough in several areas, most notably tone, pacing and writing. It’s also disappointingly devoid of the wise, wonderful words of the original books and poems. (Perhaps the filmmakers couldn’t get the rights.) But you’d have to be stuffed with fluff not to be moved emotionally, if only a wee bit. (It’s just too bad Disney couldn’t have made this film, instead of Fox Searchlight.)

As Milne, Domhnall Gleeson is competent, but he has yet to prove he can carry a period film in the same manner as Benedict Cumberbatch and Eddie Redmayne. Still, the solid production design and good performances by Will Tilston (as 8-year-old Christopher) and Kelly Macdonald (as his nanny) help mask the narrative flaws. Margot Robbie as Mrs. Milne is less effective, though she captures the requisite bitchiness of her character who, in real life, virtually rejected her son for the majority of his adult life.

“Pooh, promise you won’t forget about me, ever. Not even when I’m a hundred,” the fictional Christopher Robin asked his furry friend. Though Curtis’s film has an abundance of charm, regrettably, it will be long forgotten in 100 years. Oh, bother.

Copyright 2017 © Cameron Meier