I’ve tiptoed around delicate arches and paddled kayaks into and out of sea caves, natural structures that have been carved over millions of years.
Everything changes with time.
To look upon Ashdown Forest, a wondrous ancient place you know well even if you’ve never been within a thousand miles of East Sussex England, is to discover a natural world seemingly untouched since a British playwright and his mop-haired son conspired, accidentally some 90 years ago, to forever change childhood; for the worse for young Christopher, for the better for every other young boy and girl in the world from then on.
The new film Goodbye Christopher Robin does more to weather Ashdown Forest, and the fictional animal inhabitants of Hundred Acre Wood, than any gust of wind or rush of water ever has and ever could.
Come this Friday, October 13 2017, in theaters everywhere, you and your family can take a trip back in time to say Goodbye Christopher Robin and be changed too.
There’s this moment in Goodbye Christopher Robin when we in the audience think the steely cold author has finally had his dad switch flipped on.
We want so badly for this to be true.
The moment comes shortly after Pooh Bear has been lost (or gifted, depending on your point of view) to the world, after the once intimate stories culled from the vivid imagination of his young boy have warmed the adoring hearts of British families still healing from the trauma of World War I, as well as melted the hearts of families in America and around the globe.
In this pivotal scene, A. A. Milne rings up Christopher Robin on his birthday, to offer warm wishes to his growing son from across the pond. Simple enough, right? We’ve all made similar calls. A quick chat, a familiar voice on the other end of the line, a loving happy birthday message. Not quite.
Just like the tale of A. A. Milne, Christopher Robin and the Hundred Acre Wood, there’s more grey to the story than what lies on the crisp white page.
This is the very moment we come to understand that it has all gone too far and that there is no returning to Poohsticks Bridge or Piglet’s house ever again.
Our hearts break. Our readings of Winnie the Pooh forever changed.
My family has been to Hundred Acre Wood.
We drove into Ashdown Forest last year during our U.K. summer vacation. I had that day circled on the calendar for months before we left and was over the moon to finally be kicking up the same dust as Milne and Christopher Robin.
I squealed when we parked in ‘Piglet’s Lot’.
I closed my eyes and took in a huge breath when we walked to the Enchanted Place and to Roo’s Sandy Pit.
I cried big, sloppy tears when I stood before the massive flat-top rock that now acts as a memorial to Milne and Pooh illustrator E.H. Shepard, the very place where father and son sat and looked out over his beautiful imaginary land in the lush English countryside, with a bear, tiger, piglet and donkey in hand. The very place where the perfection of childhood was written down and drawn for the ages.
Ashdown Forest is still a magical place today. It’s full of thickets and trees, trails and wonderment for those who know of the classic story: a dad, a boy, a gaggle stuffed animals, and a heaping dose of pure youthful magic.
You should go if you get the chance. You should walk hand in hand with your children in the forest where Pooh Bear still lives, where Eeyore still sleeps beneath a triangular set of rickety twigs, where childhood refuses to grow up so that we can all travel back in time together.
Critics will probably complain that the film drags for the first third, and they aren’t wrong, but curiously, the stoic nature of the period set pieces propping up the highfalutin life of the upper crust Milne’s in London before their earthy move to the East Sussex countryside mirrors the early days of parenthood — rise early, feed, change diapers, rinse, repeat. It can be a bit bland in spots, right mom and dad?
The complex stories of childhood, parenthood, marriage, and of Goodbye Christopher Robin reveal themselves in time with more layers than puff pastry and just about as delicate too.
I can’t promise you that your heart won’t become a bit more weathered after seeing Goodbye Christopher Robin but you should see it, just as you should still visit the real life wood where it all started (and where the movie was beautifully filmed), because that forest, just like those arches and sea caves, are more beautiful now than they’ve ever been.
The magic of Winnie the Pooh may become dulled by knowing of its creation and its creator, but there’s a different kind of magic waiting for us in the harsh truth of Goodbye Christopher Robin. I believe that, if we allow it to, if we reflect upon what happened to the Milnes before and after Pooh, the film has the potential to make us finer dads and moms which in turn might make childhood even more grand for our own imaginative daughters and sons.
Everything changes with time. Especially us.
That’s the kind of magic I stand ready to welcome with open arms while tightly hugging my two kids, Pooh, and Piglet too.
Goodbye Christopher Robin opens in theaters in America on Friday October 13, 2017. The film, directed by Simon Curtis (My Week With Marilyn), is set in the embattled period in Britain between the battles of WWI and WWII and stars Domhnall Gleason (Star Wars, Ex Machina) as author A.A. Milne, Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad, Wolf of Wall Street) as Daphne Milne, Kelly MacDonald (Brave, Harry Potter) as the Milne’s live-in nanny Nou, and introduces us to the delightful Will Tilston as the famous and very much real life boy, Christopher Robin.
I was invited to a screening of Goodbye Christopher Robin in NYC and my train fare was paid for, but all opinions expressed above are unbiased.