October 27, 2017: Goodbye Christopher Robin, The Real Story of Winnie-the-Pooh (Movie Review)

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A Brief History

On October 27, 2017 the new major motion picture, Goodbye Christopher Robin, will make its premier at theaters across the United States, bringing humanity and realism to the beloved characters associated with Winnie-the-Pooh, the characters created by author A.A. Milne based on his real life son and his son’s beloved plush animals, characters and children’s books that have become the most cherished of all children’s stories.  We had the privilege of previewing this excellent movie before release, and will try to avoid spoilers as we describe the film.

Digging Deeper

As the title of the British produced film implies, the main part of the story concerns Christopher Robin Milne, the son of the famous author, A.A. Milne.  Known as an adult to have bemoaned his association with the character “Christopher Robin” in the Winnie-the-Pooh stories, the film explores the trials and tribulations of a boy growing up with the burden of incredible fame and adulation from people that know nothing of the real person, and the struggles of his parents to raise a child in such a publicity oriented environment, as if raising a child is not hard enough anyway!

A.A. Milne, a playwright, poet, and author goes off to war during World War I and returns with a degree of PTSD, having experienced the horrors of war.  He marries the beautiful Daphne de Selincourt (played by the beautiful Margot Robbie) and they have a son, although they had hoped for a girl.  Naming the boy Christopher Robin, a compromise double name with one name picked by each parent, the boy grows up being called “Billy Moon” by his family.  The characters are developed with the adorable mop-head (actor Will Tilston) enduring a somewhat cold childhood under upper-crust British parenting.  The boy’s attachment to his beloved nanny, Olive (played by Kelly Macdonald who you may remember from Boardwalk Empire as the wife of Nucky Thompson and roles in several major films) serves as a counterpoint to the stuffy relationship between parents and son, and in real life Christopher Milne (he preferred not to use his middle name) remained close with Olive his entire life.

As A.A. Milne suffers through a period of writer’s block, his inspiration is revived by observing his wonderful young son playing with his animal friends in the woods adjacent to their country home.  Enlisting the aid of a gifted illustrator, Milne creates the Winnie-the-Pooh stories and characters and has incredible and profitable success with the franchise.  The fame and notoriety are hard on the boy, and even harder on his relationship to other boys who taunt “Christopher Robin” as if he were  the character in the book.

As his father did in World War I, Christopher goes off to war during World War II, but only because his father pulled strings (at his son’s request) to have Christopher’s medical deferment waived, much to the displeasure of Daphne.

The film portrays the Milne men, father and son, as sympathetic characters conflicted by a variety of competing forces, while Daphne is portrayed much less favorably, perhaps even a bit shrewish.  In fact, after A.A. Milne died, Christopher never saw his mother again during the 15 years she lived after the death of her husband.  The animosity between mother and son was apparently mutual, and Daphne refused to see her son, even while on her deathbed.  One aspect of the life of Christopher Milne that was not explored was his marriage to his first cousin, the daughter of his mother’s brother, although they are shown in the book store they owned.  Christopher and his wife had a daughter that suffered from cerebral palsy and became an activist for victims of the disease.  Christopher’s atheism in never mentioned in the film.

Christopher resented being known as “Christopher Robin” throughout his life, struggling to find his own identity beyond that of the mythical little boy.  He seemed to feel somewhat betrayed by his parents having saddled him with the legacy of the Winnie-the-Pooh character, a point brilliantly brought out in the film, with marvelous synergy between the script, the casting, the acting, and the directing.  A poignant, heartfelt movie that will tug at your heartstrings while you learn of the origins of the stories you know and love so well, and the humanity behind those stories.

Not quite a tear-jerker, not quite a feel-good movie, and not a comedy, the film actually displays aspects of all these genres and more.  Gaining insight into the story behind the stories seemed to leave our audience with mixed emotions, as it did with us.  Happy, sad, content, discontent, like all lives examined, the life of Christopher Robin Milne is multi-faceted and these facets are portrayed with skill and realism to the audience.  Audience reaction was slightly subdued, but overwhelmingly positive.  We strongly recommend Goodbye Christopher Robin to anyone that grew up with Winnie-the-Pooh or who introduced their children to the beloved characters.  At least you will finally find out how Winnie-the-Pooh got his name!

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.