"Goodbye Christopher Robin," announces the title of this treacly biopic. Goodbye subtlety and and emotional nuance, too. A true tale about Winnie-the-Pooh author AA Milne, his son, and the loveable bear that made them both famous, this is a movie that doesn't trust its audience to laugh or cry without being told when and how much. Eeyore's constant moping and Tigger's bouncy zest seem almost restrained in comparison.
The handsomely staged effort sets its sights on a shell-shocked Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) in the wake of the First World War. He's rattled by London life following his experiences on the battlefield, much to the dismay of his socialite wife Daphne (Margot Robbie). A move to the country doesn't seem to help matters either — or at least it doesn't until a stint in the surrounding forest without Daphne or live-in nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald), when the writer and his eight-year-old son Christopher Robin (Will Tilston) imagine a whole new world with the help of some stuffed toys.
If it worked for Peter Pan and Mary Poppins, then it can work for Winnie-the-Pooh. Or at least, that's what director Simon Curtis (Woman in Gold) appears to think. Indeed, as Finding Neverland and Saving Mr. Banks did before it, Goodbye Christopher Robin presents itself as a behind-the-scenes origin story, but soon proves more interested in riding an easy wave of affection. Given that everyone's favourite fictional bear is involved, there's ample love flowing, of course. Alas, though the movie's approach is well-intentioned, the end result remains noticeably heavy-handed.
An overwrought score, uninspired cinematography and pacing that pauses for impact every time something notable happens are just a few of the film's particularly grating elements — although arguably the biggest problem is the mismatch between the script and the way it's been executed. Screenwriters Frank Cottrell-Boyce (The Railway Man) and Simon Vaughan aren't afraid to take the narrative to darker corners, touching on the trauma of war, the difficulties of marriage and motherhood, the struggle of having your childhood suddenly opened to the public, and the distance that can grow between a father and a son. Sadly, Curtis would rather skip nostalgically past the bleaker material, or wring it to inspire easy waterworks.
Filmmakers underestimating their viewers isn't new. Nor is spoon-feeding plot developments and signposting sentiment, pairing a cute kid with a grumpy adult, or leaning on pop culture commodities. Goodbye Christopher Robin is guilty of all of the above — but, more than that, it's guilty of squandering its potential. As the great performances from young Tilston and the suitably conflicted Gleeson both show, there's plenty of emotion and drama to be found in the Milnes' story without smothering it in honey. As Winnie himself would say: "oh bother."