Paddington Bear revived for a new generation

Old hat: The new Paddington stands side by side with his 1970s self.

The iconic, accident-prone immigrant from Peru has had a makeover for a new big budget film. It is one of many recent ‘reboots’ of children’s classics, but do remakes spoil the originals?

Mr and Mrs Brown were waiting in Paddington Station when they noticed a very small and confused bear sitting on a suitcase filled with marmalade. He is a stowaway from ‘darkest Peru’ and around his neck is a tag which reads, ‘Please look after this bear’. The Browns take him home, and their lives are never ordinary again.

So begins ‘A Bear Called Paddington’, the first of Michael Bond’s 1958 series of Paddington Bear books which, along with their TV adaptations, are loved by millions of children around the world and have become an iconic part of British pop culture.

Now this month, a new Paddington film is being released with a CGI bear voiced by Ben Whishaw (Q in ‘Skyfall’), with Nicole Kidman as the villain.

Michael Bond, Paddington’s 88-year-old creator, has some reservations about the film but ultimately gave its makers the green light. He vetoed a scene in which Paddington would have had to deal with immigration control and is unhappy with others, such as where Paddington licks a cotton bud he has just stuck in his ears. ‘People either hate it — I hated it — or they think it’s terribly funny,’ he said.

It is just one of many children’s classics to be ‘rebooted’ in recent years, with new versions of ‘Danger Mouse’, ‘The Clangers’ and ‘The Wombles’ all on the way. Yet fans of the originals worry that the reboots might spoil the entire memories. Last year’s ‘Postman Pat’ film caused an upset by turning Pat’s cat into a zombie. A new 'Bob the Builder' has angered fans, with one complaining that the new Bob does not ‘look old enough to hold any qualification’.

Yet it is the success of these shows that makes producers eager to revive them. After its reboot in 2005, Dr Who has become one of the BBC’s most successful exports, and is regularly broadcast in over 50 countries. A recent reboot of Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective Sherlock Holmes has made actor Benedict Cumberbatch a household name.

Stuck in the past

Some say that these remakes are a cynical way of hijacking the ‘brand recognition’ of loved shows by producers without any original ideas of their own. They try to appeal to sentimental parents while riding roughshod over the original by adapting it to what they think are modern tastes. It is unfair to the fans who hold the originals dear.

Yet others say reboots can help to share much-loved characters with new generations. Tastes change. A new TV adaptation of Beatrix Potter’s 'Peter Rabbit' dropped scenes of Peter’s father's death, fearing the original ‘would scare a four-year-old witless’. Shakespeare regularly adapted classical themes for his plays. New versions should not be seen as a replacement, but as a homage to the original.

You Decide

  1. Is ‘rebooting’ much-loved children’s series from the past a good idea?
  2. ‘Reusing old ideas is lazy and shows a lack of originality’. Do you agree?

Activities

  1. Choose four of your favourite TV shows as a child. Are they still running? If so, have they changed? If not, do you think they would have to be changed for today’s tastes? What would you change about them?
  2. Choose a highly popular TV show. Research why it was popular and what the formula was for its success. Is it because of relatable characters, or an outlandish setting? Write a newspaper article on why it worked so well.

Some People Say...

“Great work never gets old, whether it's poetry or children’s TV.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why don’t children’s TV channels just show old episodes of successful programmes?
That works to an extent, but sometimes for various reasons a TV programme’s producers stop making more episodes, and with only a finite number of programmes, repeats cannot continue forever. With reboots, producers get to make more episodes with old characters with the benefit of modern animation.
Isn’t it just making money out of old ideas?
Money probably drove the creation of the original. Beatrix Potter originally wrote Peter Rabbit for a sick child in the 1890s, but she then realised it could be commercially successful. And what we take for the ‘original’ is sometimes a remake. ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ was originally a book series written 65 years ago, but many fans assume the later TV series was the first.

Word Watch

CGI
The first film to use computer generated imagery for its lead character was the 1995 film ‘Casper’, which preceded ‘Toy Story’ by six months. However, ‘Toy Story’ was the first full-length CGI film and had a huge influence on later film and TV.
Wombles
Fictional furry creatures which help the environment by collecting rubbish and reusing it in creative ways. Originally a series of children’s books, they were a huge TV hit in the 1970s.
Doyle
In fact Doyle killed the character of Holmes off but was obliged to revive him by public acclaim. He thought it was distracting him from ‘better things’. When he told his mother his plan, she wrote back, saying ‘You won’t! You can’t! You musn’t!’.
Shakespeare
Just one example is ‘Romeo and Juliet’, in which the young lovers are based on Pyramus and Thisbe whose tale can be found in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In that version, the Romeo figure mistakenly thinks his lover has been eaten by a lion and kills himself in grief.

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