If you are an existing human person over the age of 3, there is a significant chance you have been at the very least acquainted with the famous children’s book character, Winnie the Pooh. His and Christopher Robin’s iconic stories have entranced audiences both young and old for nearly one hundred years, but did anyone ever really wonder where the inspiration for such a duo of influential figures came from?
Enter Simon Curtis and Simon Vaughan stage right.
Known for his hits My Week with Marilyn and Woman in Gold, Curtis felt attached to the script of Goodbye Christopher Robin the moment Vaughan pitched it to him, as he explained to the audience following a screening at Coolidge Corner Theater on Sunday night. He wanted to do the story of the child behind the books justice, and do it justice he has.
This film focuses on the complex relationship between Christopher Robin Milne (Will Tilston & Alex Lawther) and his father Alan (Domhnall Gleeson). It begins before Christopher Robin’s birth as Alan returns from World War I with severe PTSD, which is a huge recurring theme throughout the film’s duration. He is a playwright, and after his son is born he and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) spend the majority of their time either writing the plays or traveling to present them to the public, so Christopher Robin is left in the care of Olive, their nanny (Kelly MacDonald).
When Alan starts to believe that the “War to End All Wars” did not actually change anything, he feels as though he could be doing something better and moves himself and his family out into the woods. Instead of leaving him with Olive again, Alan and Daphne decide to bring him to the house with them so they can actually spend time with him. It is within these woods where the magical stories of Christopher Robin, who prefers to be called Billy Moon, and his band of fuzzy friends begin.
Curtis’ portrayal of the bond that grows between Alan and Christopher Robin is brilliantly executed, as he chooses to make their relationship rocky and does not pander to the younger audience that the film will inevitably attract. Alan and his son get into arguments, don’t see eye to eye, and the former even almost physically hurts Christopher Robin when he has a war flashback while they are spending time together. The relationship feels genuine and unforced.
Although the writing and directing around the relationship between Alan and Christopher Robin is fantastic, it would be all for naught without great portrayals by the people chosen to play those characters. Fortunately, the actors deliver almost perfect performances. Gleeson shines in his role as Milne, providing a fantastic and believable depiction of a man whose mind has been torn to ribbons by war.
Even more exceptional is Will Tilston, who plays the 8-year-old version of Christopher Robin. The 9-year-old actor, who had never played a role in anything (not even a school play) before the film according to Curtis, is a natural on the big screen and dazzles in his feature film debut. His role was crucial because the whole story crumbles without a believable Christopher Robin, and the task was not too large for him.
This film spends a significant amount of time teaching the audience about the importance of being there for one’s child. Once the Winnie the Pooh books become popular, Daphne starts parading Christopher Robin around like an animal for events and photo ops, which he does not like one bit. Alan does not realize that his son’s childhood has been marred by the fictional character he created until it is too late, and even though he stops writing the books it affects Christopher Robin for the rest of his adolescence. Alan does redeem himself eventually, but he has to suffer greatly to get there.
Goodbye Christopher Robin is a feel-good nostalgia trip that will leave you laughing, crying, and ultimately grinning ear-to-ear once the credits roll. The plot is woven together wonderfully for a “based on a true story” film, and is even quite loyal to the real-life chain of events as they were written in Milne’s memoir. The supporting cast is phenomenal, as they successfully tie together the rest of the story wherever Alan and Christopher Robin cannot. The editing is fast-paced and stylized, with some eye-popping scene transitions early on that set the tone for the rest of the film. And last but far from least, Will Tilston’s wide-eyed grin may be the cutest smile to ever find its way on to the big screen.
Featured Image by Fox Searchlight