How is life affected by art? How is art affected by life? Should they be affected by each other and what could happen if they do? These are the questions at the forefront of My Week With Marilyn director Simon Curtis’ latest, Goodbye Christopher Robin.
As we see young Christopher Robin and his father playing in the woods, made into whimsical gold through Curtis and cinematographer Ben Smithard’s lens and Domhnall Gleeson and Will Tilston’s warm presences on screen, the audience is shown a world in a pit of despair. A world already ravaged by what was declared “The War To End All Wars”, and with its successor on the horizon, it needs levity. It needs hope. It needs to reconnect with that childhood sense of innocence, and through A. A. Milne’s writings about a young boy named Christopher Robin and his animal friends at play, the world gets exactly that. Those earlier questions are asked, rejected and brought back to show that while the adventures of Winnie The Pooh gave the world something special, it also took something even more precious from the people who made it possible.
The film is in a similar vein as 2013’s Saving Mr. Banks, in that this is also about the wrenching real-world inspiration for what would become one of Disney’s most beloved stories. That balancing act between the crushing harshness of reality and the pleasantries of fiction to help people come to terms with that reality is a key component of this type of story. We see Milne struggle against his own memories of being on the front line, and we see the effect that being a child celebrity had on young C. R., but the film never feels too comfortable in facing that which is uncomfortable. Any time it feels like the film is cutting too close to the bone, it ends up pulling itself out of that spot through either jarring coldness (channelled through Margot Robbie, taking the phrase ‘stiff upper lip’ to a rather grating extreme) or moments where it’s honestly hard to tell whether it’s meant to be taken as funny.
In a film that juggles postpartum depression and shell shock, especially one aimed at familial audiences, precision of tone is critical and it’s too all-over-the-place for that to apply here.
But even through the tonal problems, the film’s main conceit rings true: appreciate the little things in life while you still have them. It sends the audience back into a younger mindset, where the world was less cold and even when it was, it was because we wanted it to be. Hard to throw snowballs in the summer, right? It may fumble in highlighting the story behind the story in all its unpleasantness, but as a tribute to a man and his son who gave the world joy, they are fumbles worth sitting through. In a time where it feels like we could also be on the brink of more conflict, we may desire to return to that sense of childlike wonder.