The new film Goodbye Christopher Robin, now in theaters, is teaching audiences about the heartbreaking backstory to Winnie the Pooh. Christopher Robin may seem like the happiest kid in the world with his stuffed animal of a best friend, but behind the pages of the beloved book, we find a deep rift between him and his father.
Alan Alexander Milne wrote Winnie the Pooh for his son, known at home as Billy Moon. The lighthearted tale of a boy and his teddy bear warmed the hearts of Englanders trying to recover from World War I. Yet, almost as soon as Christopher Robin became a household name in England, the story caused him to resent his father for exploiting his childhood in a sense. Instead of playing with his teddy bears, suddenly he was signing autographs, giving interviews, and being swarmed by paparazzi.
“It’s so beautiful that he gave so much of himself to those books and at the same time such a terrible mistake,” screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce explained. “It seemed to me, to be a particularly vivid and very dramatic example of something that is in all our lives, which is about how to balance the demands of the world and work on one hand, and family and love on the other.”
Unfortunately, Milne did not quite figure out how to strike that balance, as we watch Billy become more distant and bitter as the film unfolds.
The chemistry between Domhnall Gleeson as Milne and Will Tilston as Billy Moon is part of what makes the film work. Director Simon Curtis, who is credited with discovering a six-year-old Daniel Radcliffe, beamed about his newest young star.
“When you get the right child it’s sometimes easier,” he said of Will. “I was very lucky.”
Gleeson and Tilston “bonded incredibly well,” Curtis recalled, even improvising some of their scenes in the Hundred Acre Woods.
Moments like those resonated beyond the theater.
“I think it’s always worth thinking about the fact that childhood passes so quickly and that those tiny moments that you spend together, as a parent and a child, are so precious and what you do at work is probably not that precious,” Boyce explained.
While delving into the relationship between parents and children, Goodbye Christopher Robin also captures the lingering effects of war. Curtis shared with Townhall the pains he and the crew took to accurately depict the PTSD Milne experienced around the time he was writing Winnie the Pooh, as the memories of the battlefield were still painfully fresh.
“We had a doctor who was very supportive” of their work and he believed the crew achieved their objective, Curtis said. He added that a Vietnam veteran saw the film in New York and commended their “outstanding” work capturing the emotions of war.
England was hurting, but, as the film shows, Milne's story transported them to happier times.
Winnie the Pooh comes along and “accidentally touches so many chords,” Boyce said, trying to explain the story's magic.
“If you get to Winnie the Pooh, it is a pretty good checklist of what life is for; laughter, picnic, loyalty, fun, responsibility because Christopher Robin always talks about the prevalence of that. And you know, crispy mornings, snow, honey, it’s like a list of reasons that life is worth living.”
Goodbye Christopher Robin is now playing in theaters everywhere.