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Big Screen Paddington Faces the Age of Austerity

Posted: 11/05/2012 13:23

Geekdom is a funny mistress. Announcements of spin-offs and movies for popular comics and 'cult' novels often bring forth a plethora of "#Squee!" on Twitter. Kids' TV however is quite a different beast.  Celebrate a childhood hero being re-imagined and one can often invite derision along the lines of 'grow-up you stupid man-child...'

I, for one, was deliriously happy to read the news that Paddington Bear was finally making a big-screen outing. The Anglo-French production will have Harry Potter stalwart David Heyman in the Producer's chair, which is excellent news for those of us keen not to see Michael Bond's legendary creation turned into some turgid pile of CGI mush. Gnomeo & Juliet this cannot become.

The green light of the Paddington movie marks an ever-improving 2012 for the bear from Peru.  Recently lauded by the British Animation Awards as the nation's best animated character of all time, he is a creation that is as endearing as he is British, kind of.  Of literary characters created in this country, he is probably the John Lewis of his peers: sturdy, charming and never knowingly undersold.  Compared to his (very) distant relative Winnie-the-Pooh, Paddington is a one-off.  A bear's bear who never sold out (just don't mention the Marmite affair...), and doesn't need the comfort blanket of a neurotic pig and vexatious tiger to make him feel better.

The Heyman production promises to be a modern take on the Paddington story, which perhaps is the most interesting part in this latest iteration of a remarkable character. When Bond created him in 1958 he was an innocent mirror on Britain of the time. As he strolled innocently on the platforms of Paddington station, a newly-landed foreigner, he represented both the vulnerability of an émigré in Britain and what the nation in turn could impress upon those eager to integrate.

The Paddington of 2012 would be an altogether different affair. Would he make it past Heathrow customs without a issuing a hard stare or two? How would he cope with three-fruit marmalade? And could his beloved Brown family really afford a house in Notting Hill complete with a maid at today's prices?  Modern Paddington would marvel at London's mix of old and new, while baulking at the lack of simplicity in human transactions. How would a bear, with those paws, ever get on with an iPad?

Still, with the Olympics in town he could grab a ticket and perhaps cheer his countrymen on in the marathons whilst devouring a sticky bun from Greggs - though, perhaps it'd be best we if didn't ask him about the Pasty Tax...

Paddington speaks a lot to manners and courtesy; a nature of fair-play marks whatever shenanigans he gets up to. While you couldn't see him ditching the duffle coat for a hoodie and going 'street' his tongue-in-cheek simplicity could easily neuter any trash talk. Would he find the Britain of today cold, and slightly unforgiving?  Perhaps. But bears are not one to hold grudges and seek solace in inevitability. As Bond said himself in 2007, "...bears are a creature of habit."

The film has been several years in the making and a new generation will soon learn of young Mr. Brown's adventures. You only hope that compared against the backdrop of an increasingly prosperous South America, he doesn't rue Aunt Lucy's decision to send him to an island of austerity. What with the price of marmalade today, perhaps deep-fried Guinea Pig doesn't sound so bad after all.

 

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