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‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ review: Winnie-the-Pooh origin story is sugar-coated, but bittersweet

Domhnall Gleeson, left, as

Domhnall Gleeson, left, as "Winnie-the-Pooh" author A.A. Milne, whose son (Will Tilston) inspired the character of Christopher Robin, in the biopic "Goodbye Christopher Robin." Credit: Fox Searchlight / David Appleby

PLOT A.A. Milne’s most famous creation, Winnie-the-Pooh, takes a toll on the author and his son.

CAST Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Kelly Macdonald

RATED PG (some mature themes)

LENGTH 1:47

BOTTOM LINE A sugary version of what should have been a bittersweet story.

If you’ve seen the posters for “Goodbye Christopher Robin,” you probably know you’re in for a good cry. The story of how the British author A.A. Milne created the globally adored Winnie-the-Pooh, and how his son, Christopher Robin, paid the price for the bear’s success, “Goodbye Christopher Robin” promises to tug at many heartstrings: a regretful parent, a child grown, a book of happier memories.

The movie touches all those bases, but the results aren’t as emotionally powerful as they could be. Though honey-golden light bathes every scene, and many a British upper lip struggles to stay stiff, “Goodbye Christopher Robin” — drawn partly from Ann Thwaite’s 1990 biography of Milne and directed with one eye on the Oscar by Simon Curtis — feels a bit too formulaic.

The film does provide some interesting pre-Pooh detail about Milne (a somewhat pinched Domhnall Gleeson), who returns from The Great War with jumpy nerves and a craving for peace and quiet. First comes a move to a farmhouse, then the birth of Christopher Robin (played as a young boy by an excellent Will Tilston), and finally a menagerie of stuffed animals — bear, donkey, piglet — purchased by Milne’s otherwise thoughtless wife (Margot Robbie). What begins as Milne’s ongoing stories to entertain his son soon becomes a salable property — and then a worldwide hit. As the newly famous Milnes trot the globe, Christopher’s nanny (an endearing Kelly Macdonald), essentially replaces them as parents.

“Goodbye Christopher Robin” is the latest biographical drama from Curtis (“The Woman in Gold,” “My Week With Marilyn”) that simplifies and smooths out what should have been a complicated and deep-reaching story. What could be more awful than a wrecked childhood (or realizing you were the parent who wrecked it)? The real damage to Christopher Robin, however — a lifetime of bullying by boarding-school classmates — zips by in a montage, little more than an afterthought.

“Goodbye Christopher Robin” never becomes the profound rumination on lost innocence that it wants to be. That said, only a true grouch will leave this movie completely dry-eyed.

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