By Amy Huynh
Winnie-the-Pooh is a character that typically represents childhood nostalgia and innocence, yet the new film “Goodbye Christopher Robin” reveals the toll the talking teddy bear’s creation took on Christopher Robin’s real childhood. The playwright A. A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) returns from World War I, bringing home a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder and an anti-war state of mind. Despite relocating his family to the countryside, Milne’s case of writer’s block continues to put a strain on both him and his family.
Once they move away from home, Milne’s wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) decides to leave the family, promising to return once Milne begins writing again. Although Daphne’s actions may seem heartless, the reality of her psychological and emotional damage inspires more sympathy.
However, the film’s emphasis on Milne’s struggles greatly overpowers Daphne’s; her characterization becomes that of a bland and one-sided villain — even Robbie’s earlier performance as the antagonistic Harley Quinn was more likable.
At the heart of “Goodbye Christopher Robin” is the father-and-son relationship between A. A. Milne and Christopher Robin (who his family refer to as “Billy Moon”). Their relationship is able to grow as a result of Daphne leaving and of the family’s greater access to the outdoors. This plays a great part for the inspiration for the Hundred Acre Woods. Milne is able to pay more attention to his kid’s interests, including the stuffed animals that inspire his idea for “Winnie-the-Pooh.” But the history of the novel is not as interesting as the consequences of its existence. It is underwhelming to learn about how the characters of “Winnie-the-Pooh” received their names: “Winnie” was named after a black bear at the London Zoo and Christopher Robin believed that “Tigger” sounded better than “Tiger.”
The set design of the film emphasizing the outdoors can be too obvious in its reference to the fictional Hundred Acre Woods compared to the real woods Milne and Christopher live in.
Milne’s personal struggles help to shape the audience’s perception of Christopher Robin’s own emotional journey as a child. Although this is Will Tilston’s first movie role, he is able to create a natural portrayal of a chubby-cheeked child that instills a sense of belief and sympathy in the audience.
Christopher Robin is pushed to a level of fame that he is unable to understand, yet his parents are excited to exploit it for monetary gain. As his parents become more preoccupied with the fame and money gained from “Winnie-the-Pooh,” Christopher’s only sense of family relies on his nanny, Olive (Kelly Macdonald), who brings a sense of warmth to the story.
The film does not emphasize enough on Milne’s responsibility for changing Christopher Robin’s real life. “Winnie-the-Pooh” at first seems like a great idea, but the book eventually becomes a worldwide phenomenon, which pushes Christopher to become an instant star. An innocent childhood is transformed into a source of entertainment for the public.
His parents took no hesitation to push their son into the public eye through photo opportunities, endorsement deals and interviews — all while at a very young age. As the years pass, teenage Christopher Robin (Alex Lawthe) goes off to boarding school and continues being a part of his father’s popular children’s book. Within the first scene, the film leads viewers to believe that Christopher’s desire for anonymity and escape leads him towards the front lines of World War II as a one of many British army soldiers. This is a clear implication to the film’s title as the story that follows holds a nostalgic tone as Milne talks about his son as an inspiration for “Pooh” as well as his lack of fatherhood to his only son.
Domhnall Gleeson presents a fair depiction of Milne and his shortcomings as he strives to portray the author as a survivor of the “war to end all wars.” Milne’s intended legacy was to speak against war and violence, yet his true legacy is revealed to be his series of children’s books. However, the greatest irony “Goodbye Christopher Robin” displays is how the boy every British child wanted to be in the late 1920’s was unhappy with his own life as “Billy Moon.” The film is eye-opening in its exploration of the reality that created our beloved Pooh Bear.