Recently, Winnie the Pooh was selected as the most popular children’s book of all time. The lovable characters of the Hundred Acre Wood—Piglet, Tigger, Owl, Kanga, Roo, and of course Pooh Bear—have become ingrained in the imaginations of children and adults worldwide. But there is an intriguing backstory to the whole phenomenon. Director Simon Curtis (David Copperfield, Woman in Gold) brings this story to the table in the form of Goodbye Christopher Robin. If you’re expecting a warm and cuddly film that causes you to walk out of the theater with a bunch of warm fuzzies, think again. Rather, Goodbye Christopher Robin is a sadly cautionary tale of why the innocence and wonder of childhood should never be sacrificed on the altars of prestige and popularity.
Alan Milne (Domhnall Gleason), known to his close buddies as Blue, is a talented playwright on the East End of London around 1920. However, he was part of WWI and his PTSD has caused him to stop writing, to the chagrin of his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie), who’s beautiful on the outside and not-so-beautiful inside. To avoid the issues of his disorder, he moves to the countryside but finds the writing still isn’t happening. The Milnes have one child, Christopher Robin (known to his family as Billy Moon and played in the film by Will Tilston [later by Alex Lawther]), who lives an odd yet sad life. He is taken care of by his nanny Olive (Kelly MacDonald), but is held at arm’s length by Alan and Daphne, who are affluent and not afraid to head out to a spectacular ball from time to time. Christopher must also deal with random bouts of Alan’s PTSD that flare up, causing him to be somewhat timid around them.
When Daphne gets tired of Alan’s writer’s block and desire to wrote about the effects of war, she leaves him until he gets something accomplished. Olive is gone as well, so he’s left in an awkward place attempting to care for his son. Alan discovers that his son may not be as bad as first thought and joins Christopher Robin as he plays with his teddy bear and other stuffed animals in the woods behind their home. When Christopher asks him to write him a children’s story, Alan balks. But he gets an idea and writes a poem called Vespers about his son saying his prayers with Olive. When Daphne returns, she informs him that his work was published in Vanity Fair and hands him a check. Spurred by this, he creates a book about his son’s adventures with the living stuffed animals. It sells like hotcakes, and the rest is history.
But there’s more to the story. Alan and Daphne see the book’s success and come up with marketing ideas to get the work out even more. Sadly, they all involve the exploitation of Christopher. In one scene, Christopher visits a toy store and is greeted by the manager, then two doors to the outside are opened, where hundreds of screaming fans are awaiting his arrival paired with a few little girls seated at a table ready to have tea with the child. It was part of a contest and Christopher’s reaction is simply heartbreaking. He just doesn’t understand; he wants to live an ordinary life but it simply won’t happen. Even a simple phone call to dad becomes part of a radio show to tout the book. Alan finally gets the picture and puts him in a boarding school to avoid the masses. You can guess how that turns out.
Eventually, Christopher forces his dad to let him enlist in the army during WWII so he can become anonymous for a while. Only after Olive lights up the Milnes and Christopher shares his feelings with Alan does his father realize that he’s made some really bad mistakes. But is there still time for it to be corrected before the train whisks him to the front lines and harm’s way?
Goodbye Christopher Robin is quite depressing, but it only works because of the hand of Simon Curtis. With a lighter hand, the tale develops into a farce; a heavier hand renders it unwatchable. The acting is good for the most part, though Daphne is a one-note character and gets an ending she really doesn’t deserve. Of course, the gorgeous cinematography of the English countryside brings to mind any number of films such as Finding Neverland.
However, the main point of the film involves good parenting. In Proverbs, we find the adage “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov 22:6 NASB). Spending time with one’s children is important, getting to know and appreciate them for who they are, not who they might become. We can have fantastic dreams and plans for our offspring, but forcing the hand tends to make them resentful and reactionary in due time. Likewise, using them as a way to further our personal careers is akin to abuse—just not in a physical manner. Children are gifts that should be treated as such—with love, care, correction, and encouragement to be all God wants them to be. They tend to prosper under that environment. But even if it seems like all hope is lost is relating to our children, it may not. We must learn to communicate with them and keep the lines open. Parenting is difficult work, no doubt about it. But it can produce the greatest rewards—rewards no bestseller can ever hope to accomplish.