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GOODBYE, CHRISTOPHER ROBIN: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE

There is a tendency among some critics to dismiss anything genteel and British in a condescending manner, relegating it to the “Masterpiece Theater” demographic. I hope this fate doesn’t befall Goodbye, Christopher Robin, a handsome production that may be genteel but is far from bland. It’s the story of a successful author who survived the horrors of combat during World War I only to face writer’s block—and a desire to address the folly of war. He eventually made up a storybook world to amuse his young son. Little did he dream that it would overtake their lives and turn the unsuspecting boy into a kind of freak-show. One doesn’t associate the term “media celebrity” with the 1920s but that’s what the real-life Christopher Robin became after Alan Milne published his first book about Winnie-the-Pooh and the Hundred Acre Wood.

Director Simon Curtis has a solid grip on 20th century period pieces, as he’s shown in My Week with Marilyn and Woman in Gold. Writer Frank Cottrell Boyce has experience with biographical stories (Hilary and Jackie, 24 Hour Party People) and whimsy (Millions). His credited co-writer, Simon Vaughan, is primarily a producer whose only other screenplay is the 2004 TV movie A Bear Named Winnie, about a formidable animal who figures in this narrative as well.

In the hands of these skillful filmmakers and a well-chosen cast, Goodbye, Christopher Robin tells a bittersweet story grounded in truth. Domhnall Gleeson portrays A.A Milne as a solitary man who is married to a beautiful but mercurial woman (Margot Robbie). Kelly Macdonald is ideal as their devoted nanny…but it’s during a week when they are left alone that Milne and his son finally forge a bond based on their mutual love of make-believe. The boy is played by an impossibly adorable child named Will Tilston, whose smile could melt butter.

I’ve never read anything about A.A. Milne or his collaborator Ernest Shepard, who supplied the illustrations for the timeless stories that Walt Disney later adapted. I’m always wary of films as sources of information, but if the story told here is essentially accurate it’s a good one. Incredible to think that Winnie the Pooh was borne of so much human conflict.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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