The story behind the conception of Winnie the Pooh, one of the most beloved icons of childhood literature, runs the risk of coming off as a sappy Lifetime movie. Director Simon Curtis tackles the film almost as a dare, walking so close to the massive waves of melodrama and dipping his toes in it just when want him not to. There’s a great story here, but it comes with a hefty dose of honey to make its drama go down smoother. At least Curtis had the decency to sprinkle the artificialness rather than slather.
We start with author A. A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) right after the war. After a brief scene of being in the muddy trenches with dead bodies, cut to him trying to adjust to society and unable to accept the civilized world’s distance from the horrific events. Milne can’t stop thinking about the war, and it’s wearing down on his mental state. His wife, Daphne (Margot Robbie), believes this is only a brief phase that can be quickly solved with A. A. returning to his writing. When that doesn’t work, she has a child. When that doesn’t work, she entertains his idea to live in the country where he can write his anti-war book.
Their son, Christopher (Alex Lawther), proves to be a source of sweetness and innocence during a rocky time for the Milne family. A. A. wants quiet for his writing, and Daphne intends to live her life outside with parties and fame. But when A. A. finds himself taking care of Christopher on his own, he finds himself better able to write and cope with his son’s imagination and simplicity. It also helps that his kid is so adorable that if the movie tried to make him anymore cute, he’d have sugar in his veins.
The formation of Winnie-the-Pooh from this bonding comes with expected beats of discovery. What shall we call the donkey? How about Eeyore? What wonderful origins. Aside from the lacking backgrounds of the animals of The Hundred Acre Woods, the chemistry between Alex Lawther and Domhnall Gleeson balances out the stumblings of this story. Sure, their warmth is partially manufactured by the glowing cinematography of the countryside and the manipulative music of Carter Burwell, but at least the actors are giving their best, even if the director is placing this plot on drama autopilot.
The movie mostly proceeds down a somewhat predictable path of the success of the books. This includes the conception of the illustrations, the imagination of Christopher that forms the stories, the fame seen in montages of books flying off the shelf and the loss of identity poor Christopher feels for being a literary celebrity. There’s a struggle to prevent the melodrama, but this grip is lost by the third act, trying to wrap up the story with the most basic of dialogue. It’s clear as day that Christopher doesn’t care about the money and just wants to be with his dad. Does Christopher have to say this exact line to his father just before he goes off to war?
Despite some somber and dark depictions of A. A.’s war flashbacks and Christopher’s fears of being famously lonely, Goodbye Christopher Robin is a relatively light bit story that will bring more forced tears and smiles than genuine intrigue. Much like how Disney portrayed the real story in Saving Mr. Banks, the film does its best not to step on any controversial toes and go for the most easily digestible story for general audiences. If the string of real life story movies seems a little too tragic, here is one that is sure to warm hearts just a little bit if you’re willing to go for the ride. I didn’t mind its journey, though I can’t say I enjoyed it when the wheels started to come off towards the end.