In the 1920s, A.A. Milne gave a world reeling from World War I gentle books inspired by his only child and the boy's stuffed-animal friends. The British author rendered them in verse and prose, brimming with humor and nestled among perfect illustrations by E.H. Shepard.
Such books as "When We Were Very Young" and "Winnie-the-Pooh" were great gifts, but their success took a toll, as the well-intentioned, but flawed film "Goodbye Christopher Robin" aims to show. Christopher Robin Milne — called by his nickname, "Moon," in the film — had a painful public childhood. His father felt guilt about that, and he saw his literary ambitions limited by "Pooh."
Inspired by Ann Thwaite's 1990 biography of the author and the memoirs of Christopher Milne, the script, while well researched, is stuffed with more shifts in time and tone than it can gracefully handle. Though "Goodbye Christopher Robin" has moments of delight and even profundity, and looks PBS-pretty, too often it stumbles. From the trivial to the serious — ranging from an awkward close-up of smudged makeup to inconsistencies of character — director Simon Curtis doesn't pull the thing together. Milne's wife, Daphne (Margot Robbie), for example, is alternately portrayed as flighty, distant and affectionate, with each iteration seemingly unrelated to the last.
Domhnall Gleeson struggles, too, playing the writer as an introverted, shellshocked veteran whose moods shift abruptly. As Moon, Will Tilston seems alternately stilted and hesitant. Stephen Campbell Moore and Kelly Macdonald fare better, delivering understated performances as Milne's friend Shepard and the boy's nanny, respectively.
Yet there are pleasures. Father and son have a charming time bonding. One memorable sequence shows Milne and Shepard wandering in the Sussex countryside with little Moon and his bear in tow. While the boy plays, the men imagine life in the Hundred Acre Wood. Then these fellow veterans gaze out on the valley and try not to let it remind them of battlefields past.
PG. At area theaters. Contains disturbing battlefield flashbacks, a nongraphic childbirth scene, emotional upsets and school bullying. 101 minutes.