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A biopic about how author A.A. Milne and son Christopher Robin Milne’s quality time together inspired the “Winnie-the-Pooh” book series, which later went on to distress their relationship, the film relies heavily on sentimentality and production values to romanticize nearly the heartbreak of their story.
Set in the 1920’s, no expense is spared in capturing the nostalgia of England. From the beautiful countryside in which the Milne’s cottage-style mansion lies, to the classic architecture of downtown London, the film is a living a travel brochure of the United Kingdom. In that regard, the film is an Anglophile’s dream.
The costumes resonate wonderfully on screen as well. One particular scene in which they stand out is when Christopher’s parents surprise him on his birthday with a marching band. The vividness in the red of the band’s military jackets delightfully juxtaposes the brown tweeds and other earth tones that make up the film’s canvas.
While the playful moments between father and son provide the film with its best misc-en-scene, focus on the dissolution of their bond, which is its central conflict, takes a literal backseat to the third act of the film.
Not to imply that the story of how Winnie-the-Pooh came to be isn’t fascinating, but from the way it is told in the film, no major dramatic moments exist in it beyond Milne’s war flashbacks.
The absence of a strong push/pull dynamic in the film makes it, despite its beauty, a fairly dull viewing experience.
What prevents the film from being completely unwatchable is Will Tilston’s performance as young Christopher Robin. In his first feature film role, Tilston not only handles the role of a precocious child who has abandonment issues with nuanced skill, he steals the film. This isn’t an easy feat to do when a role is shared with another actor Alex Lawther, who portrays Christopher Robin as an adult. A-list stars such as Margot Robbie, Domhnall Gleeson, and Kelly Macdonald round out the leading cast members.
If only the film were focused on young Christopher Robin throughout, it would undoubtedly be more interesting; and kid/family friendly, a genre it flirts with but doesn’t fully commit to.
In the role of A.A. Milne, Gleeson does a great job portraying a World War I veteran who struggles to write while trying to connect to his growing son. If only the film focused more on his then unknown PTSD, it could have made for a more gripping drama.
Macdonald portrays Christopher’s nanny, Olive, with the right amount of matronly warmth. Robbie, on the other hand, seems miscast as Milne’s wife, Daphne. Though she gives a decent performance, her youth, combined with her model-esque features, works against her plausibility as mother.
Just because Winnie-the-Pooh has become so loved worldwide since its inception doesn’t mean that its genesis and legacy can’t be challenged or held up to scrutiny.
“Goodbye Christopher Robin” clearly skirts these options in its storytelling; thus, reinforcing the past’s ability to influence the world of today through fantasy.