There’s an iconic line from the Disney Winnie the Pooh stories. “If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you.” Pooh utters this to Christopher Robin as they amble through The Hundred Acre Wood. It’s a melancholy, if terribly sweet, desire. And it’s rendered rather tragic by the knowledge that Christopher Robin will grow up. And when he does he’ll leave Winnie behind. It’s the same grim end-of-childhood, loss of innocence landmark that made Toy Story 3 and Inside Out positively devastating. It’s also at the core of Goodbye Christopher Robin, a biopic about author A.A. Milne and his relationship with his son, who inspired the legendary tales.
You see, the real Christopher Robin pulled his father away from the PTSD he brought home from World War I, and back into the world of words. But, he was just a little boy who wanted to play with his father, to make him happy. It took the departure of all the women in his life to force Milne to actually engage with his son, but on coming around to the beauty of his own child’s innocence, he processed his emotions the only way he knew how. On the page. The result was a whimsical story that mended something in the wounded world and became a phenomenon.
It’s a nice story, really, until it isn’t. Remember when I mentioned the loss of innocence before? I wasn’t just whistling Dixie. Goodbye Christopher Robin isn’t just a cute little chronicle of how one of the most beloved children’s stories of all time came to be. It’s also an account of the high cost of A.A. Milne putting that story out into the world. And that’s where things get a bit murky for Goodbye Christopher Robin.
You see, there’s some fine acting here. Kelly MacDonald is her usual wonderful self. Domhnall Gleeson continues to impress, even when saddled with aging makeup that feels too heavy-handed. And the how and why of this thing are quite interesting. But it all works a little too well for its own good. No one wants to look at Winnie on a quest for honey and be reminded of the sad reality behind one of the most idyllic childhood stories ever captured on the page. The great irony is that this film about a story that made a lot of people happy will, in turn, make people bring sadness to the happy story at its center.
It’s not fair to fault the filmmaking on display here for the emotions it creates, so I shan’t. But I’ll still issue this warning. If you have warm fuzzies in your heart for Winnie the Pooh, you may well want to skip this saga and stick to your memories.