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PADDINGTON

Taking A National Treasure From Page To Screen
"Like most people of my generation, I have very fond memories of Paddington from childhood. I grew up with the FilmFair animations and his teddy bear took pride of place in my bedroom, but it wasn't until I revisited the stories as an adult that I asked why this particular character had so entranced me. There's no shortage of talking animals in children's literature, but few have the enduring appeal of Paddington. For me, the secret lies in his label: "Please Look After This Bear. Thank you". Despite this little bear's outward calm and self-assurance, it tells us that inside, he is vulnerable and in need of help in a frightening new world.

At some point in their lives, everyone has felt like an outsider. You don't need to have been one of the evacuees who inspired the image of the lost soul sitting on a platform with a label around his neck, or to have escaped danger like Paddington's friend Mr. Gruber, or to have crossed oceans like the Windrush immigrants who were settling in Notting Hill around the time Michael Bond wrote the first stories (and whose music fills our soundtrack). You only need to have had your first day at school or spent a night away from home to empathise with the little bear, lost and alone - and to me it is this that has made generations of readers' hearts go out to him.

Michael Bond and I were both keen that the narrative of the film didn't interfere with the enjoyment of the stories in the books, which are familiar to so many. All the famous set pieces from the opening of the first book are in there, from his discovery at the railway station wearing nothing but a hat and label to a messy visit to the tearoom, his disastrous first encounter with a bathroom and trip into the underground. And while we meet Paddington earlier in the film than we do in the first book, our Paddington's history is faithful to the background Michael Bond developed in later stories.

But the fifth chapter of A Bear Called Paddington begins 'Paddington soon settled down and became one of the family' and I felt here there was space for a longer narrative. After this point, the Paddington stories are much shorter and more self-contained and it felt Paddington's unexplored transition from calamitous outsider to one of the family was the perfect space for a film story, one that chimed with the heart of what makes Paddington such a special character.

Like Oliver Twist before him, Paddington arrives in London as an orphan in search of a home. But while it takes Oliver a long time to find Mr. Brownlow, Paddington stumbles across the Browns almost straight away. However, getting a roof over one's head and feeling at home are two very different things, and this is the journey he embarks upon in our film.

The flip side of Paddington's story is, of course, the transition the (initially reluctant) Browns make from spotting Paddington to welcoming him into their family. When we first met, I asked Michael Bond about Mr and Mrs Brown and he told me that they were inspired by his own parents. I asked him what their reaction would have been to seeing a scruffy young bear and he said "My mother would have wanted to give him a bath and my father would have worried about the paperwork."

These conflicting attitudes felt like a great source of drama, and Henry's reluctance to get involved with the scruffy young cub reminded me of one of my favourite films, THE KID. The Little Tramp starts out as a very reluctant father. His first instinct is to unload the child (down the drain if need be). Like him, our Mr. Brown feels that Paddington isn't their responsibility. He's quite happy to leave the little bear sleeping in a bin if need be. He's not a bad man - he just wants to get his family home safely - but this protective instinct has interfered with his better instincts towards strangers.

By the end of THE KID, the Little Tramp would do anything for his adoptive child, and the rooftop chase at the end of the film is all the more heart-breaking because of the journey he has been on. Taking inspiration from this, I felt that Mr Brown could go on a journey every bit as transformative as Paddington, and that it would make the film much richer for it".

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