Goodbye Christopher Robin

Posted on October 12, 2017 at 5:53 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic elements, some bullying, war images and brief language
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Wartime violence, post-traumatic stress
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 13, 2017
Copyright 2017 Fox Searchlight

This telling of the story behind the creation of some of the world’s most beloved books for children is sincere and well-intentioned but what Pooh might call a bit of a muddle. The movie is not at all clear about whose perspective it is giving us or what story it is trying to tell.

Author A.A. Milne, called Blue by his family and played by Domhnall Gleeson, was a successful playwright and humorist before the Great War, but came back badly shaken from the experience of combat and carnage. His wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) is affectionate but impatient. Neither one of them is very interested in their son, Christopher Robin (Will Tilston), who spends most of his time with his devoted nanny, Nou (Kelly Macdonald). Milne insists the family move to the country, where Daphne feels isolated from the parties and friends she enjoys. She goes back to London, saying she won’t return until Milne begins to write again, just as Nou has to take some time off to care for her mother. This leaves Milne alone with his son, called Billy Moon by the family, and for the first time they spend time together, playing in the woods with the child’s stuffed bear, named Winnie after the bear in the zoo. It is these days that inspire the two chapter books and two books of poems that have been read aloud to generations of children who have grown up and read them to their own children, plus, Disney movies and a television series (Disney now own the rights to the characters) and more books and toys.

And it is these days that are the best part of the film, especially when Milne’s friend, the illustrator Ernest Howard Shepard (Stephen Campbell Moore) comes to visit, and we see the stories Milne and Billy Moon tell melting into the sketches that are as beloved as the writing.

The problem is the rest of the movie, which is really four movies fighting with each other, none of them very good. There is the story of a shattered veteran trying to find a way to return to civilian life and work that is meaningful to him. There is the story of a man and a boy who do not realize how much they need each other discovering a common language. There is the story of enormous success that benefits one family member but at great cost to another.  The stories lead to feelings of betrayal and bitterness when Billy Moon becomes famous, more famous than his father, and much more famous than his boarding school classmates.  And there is the story of estrangement and partial reconciliation.

It is never clear what the point of view of the movie is, or what the point of the movie is.  Is it that art can be healing and wounding at the same time?  Is it that behind tales of wonder and enchantment there can be pain and bitterness?  Fans of the Winnie the Pooh books may enjoy some of the classic biopic “ah, that’s where this part I loved came from” moments, but they do not provide any additional insight or depth to the work itself, not even an exploration of what the books have to say about childhood and whether they represent a child’s perspective or a parent’s.  Most of all, unlike Pooh, Piglet, Kanga, Roo, and Owl, these characters are not very interested or interesting.

Parents should know that this movie includes wartime violence, PTSD, marital estrangement, sad offscreen death of a parent, apparent death of a child, and social drinking.

Family discussion:  What should Blue and Daphne have done differently?  Why did Christopher want to go into the army?  Is “the great thing” finding something to be happy about?

If you like this, try: the books of A.A. Milne

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Winnie the Pooh

Posted on July 14, 2011 at 6:36 pm

Disney’s latest film lovingly captures the magic of A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories and poems, which have been enchanting children and their parents for 85 years.  They were a sort of earlier “Toy Story,” with the adventures of Christopher Robin’s stuffed tiger, kangaroo, donkey, and most of all his bear of very little brain, sometimes known as Edward Bear but known to his friends as Pooh.  Milne’s simple prose was a peek into the world of a child’s imagination, including play but also including fear and anxiety and reassurance and friendship.  Children enjoyed the fanciful tales but what resonates so compellingly to audiences of all ages is the narrator’s voice, gentle, understanding, and with great affection and acceptance for all of its characters.

All of this is beautifully brought to life in this brief 68-minute film that is one of the rare movies genuinely suitable for the whole family.  It combines two of the books’ best stories.  Eeyore loses his tail.  A misunderstanding has the friends worried that Christoper Robin has been kidnapped by a terrible monster called the Backson.  In both, the friends work together

The reason that is reassuring on such a deep level is that each of the characters is an aspect of each of us and each of their struggles and mistakes feels very true to us.  Eeyore is the pessimistic and insecure voice that represents our worries and Tigger is us at our most ebullient and confident.  Piglet is anxious and fearful. Kanga is the loving parent who represents the superego.  And Pooh is that most elemental of ids, wanting to do the right thing and be a good friend but always led by his tummy’s love for honey.  Their minor struggles are endearing and their support for one another — like the song they sing when it appears one of them has found a tail for Eeyore and won the prize — is heartwarming.

There is some charming music from M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel and an adorable “who’s on first”-style wordplay mix-up.  John Cleese provides the narration, Spongebob’s Tom Kinney is the voice of the Owl, and Jim Cummings takes over for both Sterling Holloway and Paul Winchell as Pooh and Tigger.  It is a pleasure to spend time in the 100 acre woods with these old friends and share their adventures, a welcome reminder that while we must leave childhood, we can come back soon.

Armistead Maupin used this lovely passage for the title of one of his Tales of the City books.

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh,” he whispered.

“Yes, Piglet?”

“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw, “I just wanted to be sure of you.”

 

Parents should know that this film includes some very mild peril (mostly imagined by the characters).

Family discussion: How did the animals help and support each other?  When did you think something was scary only to find out it was just your imagination?  Why does everything look like honey to Pooh?

If you like this, try: the books by A.A. Milne

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Animation Based on a book Fantasy For the Whole Family Musical Series/Sequel

The Tigger Movie

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

What is a family? Is it people who look like us? People who like the same things that we do? People who always have time for us? Tigger learns something about what family really means in this pleasant animated musical that draws much more from Disney than it does from Tigger’s original author, A.A. Milne.

As we know from the well-known Disney song about Tigger, he’s “the only one.” But when he has a hard time finding a friend to bounce with and seems to be getting in everyone’s way, he thinks that maybe he should try to see if there are some other Tiggers after all. He thinks that if he can find others like him, he will feel accepted, understood, and proud.

Many small children will identify with some of Tigger’s concerns. He shows signs of sibling rivalry right at the beginning, when he lets us know that most of the stories are about Pooh, but this one is about him. He has a hard time understanding why he can’t get anyone to play with him and gets upset when others get mad at him for breaking things and making a mess. His dreams of finding a place where everyone will be just like him will appeal to kids, who are always surrounded by that strangest of species, grown-ups.

Make sure kids learn along with Tigger that what makes a family is not looking alike, enjoying the same things, or even getting along all the time, but love, loyalty, and caring for each other. When Tigger runs away, his friends follow him and they all work together to get home safely. Once they are back home, Tigger shows his appreciation by giving each friend the one special gift that most shows how carefully he listened to each of them, even while he was bouncing.

Anyone over age 8 may find the movie slow, but a couple of bright musical numbers (by the same Sherman brothers who wrote the music for “Mary Poppins” and the original Pooh movie) and a running time of 75 minutes make it relatively painless. Parents should know that there characters are in peril, but nothing too intense.

Kids who like this movie should make sure their parents read them the books about Winnie the Pooh and his friends. They’ll also enjoy the other Pooh movies on video, especially the early ones.

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