November 18, 2018
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  • Bring the tissues: You might be dismayed to find out that the real-life Christopher Robin suffered neglect from his parents, who wanted to exploit him after the success of his father’s “Winnie the Pooh” books.
    Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures
    Bring the tissues: You might be dismayed to find out that the real-life Christopher Robin suffered neglect from his parents, who wanted to exploit him after the success of his father’s “Winnie the Pooh” books.

“Goodbye Christopher Robin” Examines Sad Story Behind Creation Of Winnie The Pooh

Audrey Ruppert
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November 3, 2017

Do not watch “Goodbye Christopher Robin” unless you are ready to have “Winnie the Pooh” forever ruined for you. I walked away from the film feeling like much of my childhood had been a lie. That said, “Goodbye Christopher Robin,” is an insightful look into the hidden darkness which often inspires childhood fairy tales, a watch-worthy biopic in the vein of “Saving Mr. Banks” and “Finding Neverland.” If you plan on seeing it, bring tissues and anxiety snacks because to say that this film is heavy is an understatement — I left the theater emotionally exhausted.

The film primarily focuses on A.A. Milne, the author of the beloved childhood story “Winnie the Pooh.” Milne (Domhnall Gleason) returns from World War I and attempts to resume a normal life among his fellow aristocrats and playwrights with his rather shallow socialite wife (Margot Robbie), but is haunted by post-traumatic stress disorder. The film makes creative and effective use of sound effects and lighting to demonstrate how common daily events in domestic life can trigger PTSD. In an attempt to escape, Milne moves his family to the quiet countryside but encounters a massive case of writer’s block.

It is immediately made clear that the Milnes could win an award for worst (or, if I’m being more generous, most detached and clueless) parents of the year. They are presented as members of the English transitional generation between the old aristocracy and the modern day, similar to the cast of characters in “Downton Abbey.” Like the family at Downton, they choose to have hired help raise their child, Christopher Robin (Will Tilston), and seem to have hardly anything to do with him at all. Daphne, Milne’s wife, often flippantly remarks that she nearly died giving birth to him and seems to resent him for it. When Daphne grows frustrated with an idle Milne and returns to the London social scene, and when Christopher’s nanny goes away for a few days, the author finds himself alone with his child and seemingly at a loss for what to do.

For a brief moment, it seems like Milne might have become a good father, as he learns to play with Christopher and develops the story of “Winnie the Pooh” during this time. Unfortunately, the Milnes transition from neglectful to downright exploitative rather quickly. Upon the explosion of “Winnie the Pooh” as an international success, the Milnes trot out Christopher Robin to book signing after interview after fan contest after press conference. Daphne’s mood sickeningly improves due to this attention; she seems to be a 1920s predecessor to Kris Jenner. The film does an interesting job of exposing the beginnings of exploitative celebrity culture, and how child stars often spend their childhoods isolated and alone despite being known to everyone.

I have one primary gripe with the film: It is too afraid to embrace what it truly is - a devastating portrayal of Milne, his wife, and how their selfishness forever damaged their child. It tries to tug on our heartstrings, as “Winnie the Pooh,” does, it tries too hard to make the Milnes redeemable, and it tidies up loose ends far too neatly. Christopher’s adolescence is over in a flash; the very real pain of his humiliation by peers in a boarding school, and his inability to escape his storybook counterpart, are only mentioned briefly by the adult actor (Alex Lawther) who portrays him at the end of the film. We see Christopher express his anger, go off to World War II much to his parents’ dismay, and return only to make up with them and forgive them for their misdeeds.

The reality is that the true Christopher Robin further developed his resentment for his parents during the war, and he spoke to his mother only once in the last 15 years before she died. The film didn’t necessarily need to portray Milne as a villain, but it gave him too much credit. It could have presented Milne as a flawed but well-intentioned man who did his best to write his own sort of peace treaty in protest against war, even if it came in the form of a children’s book, all while keeping true to the fact that he was an awful parent who ruined his child’s life. The sugarcoating felt unnecessary and made the film less powerful. The truth is, as I very well know, relationships between parents and their children are often complicated and difficult; parents try their best and aren’t necessarily bad or even ill-intentioned people, but that doesn’t mean the damage they can inflict will ever go away. It would have been better for “Goodbye Christopher Robin” to fully embrace the dark themes it touches upon rather than shying away from it to give us a children's storybook ending.

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