One of several biopics recounting the lives of famous authors, this week sees the release of Goodbye Christopher Robin. As you might guess from the title, the story focuses on A.A. Milne and his creation of Winnie The Pooh and the rest of the inhabitants of the 100-Acre Wood and the adventures they take part in.
Domhnall Gleeson plays Milne, who’s recently returned from serving his country in the military during World War I. No longer content to be entertaining in his work, he strives to inspire peace and love. Escaping London with his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) and son Christopher Robin (Will Tilston), Milne is inspired by Christopher’s affection for a stuffed bear and the imagination he displays. Eventually the success of Winnie the Pooh turns the whole family into celebrities, willingly or not.
The first poster is made to look like a storybook as it shows A.A. and his son Christopher walking hand-in-hand through the woods, Christopher’s other hand clutching his beloved teddy bear. The woods are illustrated just as they are in the stories Milne would write. No additional copy here, surprisingly.
Christopher is saying his prayers alongside Olive as the first trailer opens. The focus then shifts to A.A., who’s being introduced as a bright upcoming writer before the stage lights give him flashbacks to the horrors he experienced in WWI. He’s in need of a change to figure out what he wants to do that could really impact the world. So he moves his family to a small village and, thanks to Christopher’s innocent inspiration, begins to get the ideas that would eventually become his best-known work. Through all of this A.A. tries to balance his work and family duties.
It’s a nicely touching trailer that shows us we’re going to get the story behind the story we all know. It uses the juxtaposition of walks in the woods with his son and his experiences in the war to decent dramatic effect. In the end it might come off a bit schmaltzy, but it seems its heart is in the right place.
Online and Social
The domestic U.S. trailer plays when you load Fox Searchlight’s official website for the movie. Close that and you get a version of the key art showing all three members of the Milne family alongside some four-star reviews from various publications. At the bottom is a prompt to watch the trailer and to the social profiles for Fox Searchlight, while the Twitter and Facebook feeds set up for this specific movie don’t appear to be listed anywhere on the site.
“Cast” gets things started at the top of the page, allowing you to select each person’s name and taking you to a page with a picture of them and a quote about how they reacted to the script and story. “Filmmakers” does the same thing for director Simon Curtis.
There’s a short synopsis in the “Story” section. “Photos” has about 10 production stills and “Videos” just has the one trailer.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
The first TV spot gets into the motivations that drove Milne, particularly his desire to write something uplifting for both the world and his son, but strips away the elements seen in the trailer that shows the family dealing with sudden and unexpected fame.
Media and Publicity
Gleeson was interviewed for Entertainment Weekly’s fall movie preview issue about how he got the part, how he prepared for it and other related topics. Gleeson was, according to this interview, apprehensive about the part due to the sensitive nature of the story and the real-life character he plays. This interview with Gleeson also nodded to how he’s basically in half the movies hitting theaters this fall.
The star also appeared on TV to talk about the movie and share jokes with the hosts, but the conversation also included plenty of diversions into talk of Star Wars. Robbie joined him in some appearances as well. Kelly Macdonald, who plays the nanny who cares for Christopher while his parents are busy, also did the rounds with various interviews.
There was also a feature interview that focused on both actors who play Christopher Robin – Tilston and Alex Lawther, who plays him as a teenager – and allowed them to talk about their different approaches to the character.
As I mentioned in the opening, this is one more entry in this fall’s “Behind the Story: True Author Stories” movie trend. By focusing on the inspiration Christopher Robin provided, the campaign hopes to move beyond selling it as a straight biopic, something that has decidedly mixed results. Instead, the goal is to present it as a kind of childhood fantasy, albeit one that also involves the trauma of a former soldier and frustrated writer.
In all, the campaign presents a consistent brand identity, with repeated use of the soft pastels and muted browns that are shown on the poster, the website and elsewhere. It’s all meant to be very serene and peaceful, attitudes that are in keeping with the book Milne wound up writing. It’s also slightly evocative of the editions of Winnie The Pooh that have graced bookstore shelves for years.
It’s not clear how much of the movie’s running time will be devoted to flashbacks to Milne’s experiences in the war, but their inclusion makes me wonder who the target audience here is. Adults are more likely to find interest in the story of how PTSD inspires someone to create something pure and good, but those scenes may be a bit intense for kids who are more interested in the fantasy world on display. At least the campaign doesn’t emphasize one or the other, setting at least one potential audience pool up for disappointment.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.