December 04, 2014
(+++) A BEAR RETHOUGHT
Paddington: The Junior Novel. Adapted by Jeanne Willis from the screenplay by Paul King. HarperFestival. $5.99.
Paddington: Meet Paddington. Adapted by Annie Auerbach from the screenplay by Paul King. Harper. $3.99.
Paddington: Paddington’s Adventures. Adapted by Annie Auerbach from the screenplay by Paul King. Harper. $3.99.
Paddington: Paddington in London. Adapted by Annie Auerbach and Mandy Archer from the screenplay by Paul King. HarperFestival. $3.99.
Paddington: Paddington’s World. Adapted by Annie Auerbach and Mandy Archer from the screenplay by Paul King. HarperFestival. $3.99.
Michael Bond’s marvelous tales of Paddington, the bear from “darkest Peru” who shows up at London’s Paddington Station one day, lost and craving marmalade, originated more than half a century ago: A Bear Called Paddington was published in 1958. Clearly these sweet, innocent, mischievous and subtly destabilizing stories – the most recent of which, Love from Paddington, is brand new, as Bond continues chronicling the bear’s fortunes and misfortunes – are too laid-back and wry for the film industry. And so we have a Paddington movie that combines live action with the now-typical computer-generated bear who moves almost realistically and communicates almost believably while going through a series of trials and tribulations that are almost those created by Bond. But not quite. Movies for young people need clear-cut heroes and villains, the thinking goes, but alas, there are no such in the Paddington books, where just about everyone and just about everything is good-natured and where misunderstandings rather than outright evil drive the stories and provide the amusement. But what works for a bear called Paddington will simply not do for a movie called Paddington, and so there must be a scene in which the bear amusingly pursues a thief through the streets of London, and there must be a Cruella De Vil type who wants to take the stuffed bear and – horrors – stuff him. And exhibit him in a taxidermy showing, of all things! Well, this is all ridiculous and, to those who know and love Paddington, close to sacrilegious; but the idea is to bring in new fans of Paddington, ones who will presumably not sit still in their media-saturated environment for anything like warm, homespun tales featuring nice people and gentleness. Oh my, we simply cannot have anything like that in the 21st century, now can we?
Families that buy into the reconstituted Paddington and the film bearing his name have many available takeaways to continue their enjoyment at home. Paddington: The Junior Novel is for ages 8-12 and simply retells the film’s story, from Paddington’s arrival in London to his many adventures and his eventual realization – typical for films of a certain type – that what matters most is not gadding about but finding a home and family within which to settle down. Kids who want to re-live the film’s plot will find it all here, with eight pages of film scenes as illustrations.
Families that want to use the film, rather than Bond’s books, to help young children learn to read, can pick up two movie-based Level 1 books in the “I Can Read!” series. This level, intended for kids ages 4-8, is designated as “simple sentences for eager new readers,” and the books accordingly tell their film-based stories – set against many scenes from the movie – in very simple terms. Meet Paddington is a first-person narrative in which Paddington tells about himself, the Brown family members whom he meets in London, and the movie’s evil character, Millicent. Paddington’s Adventures is a third-person narrative showing and describing film highlights. Also for kids in the same age range are two books with an even stronger visual orientation. Their writing is slightly more complex, so they are best for slightly more advanced readers, but there is nothing really difficult in either of them. Paddington in London shows Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, and other famous places, as well as close-ups of the movie’s characters, and has Paddington conclude that “London is a fascinating place.” Paddington’s World is slightly more unusual, mixing movie scenes with a few things for kids to do: get Paddington through a maze, create captions for Paddington’s scrapbook, do a word search for some things associated with Peru, and more. This is the only one of these five movie tie-in books that goes beyond describing the film’s plot and showing scenes from it; as such, it is the book most likely to give kids who enjoy the film something to do beyond simply recalling what they saw. All these books, though, are intended more as souvenirs than as serious reading – for that, kids should have any of Bond’s original Paddington books or any of the adaptations that have been made of them, not featuring movie scenes but offering wonderful illustrations by Peggy Fortnum or R.W. Alley (the latest Paddington book has pictures by both). The film may offer Paddington for the 21st century, but the odds of it being fondly remembered 50-plus years from now are very small. Bond’s books, on the other hand, have made it past the half-century mark with their charm intact, and show every sign of continuing to enchant children for years to come – provided that parents make it clear that the movie called Paddington is by no means the first or last word on the stories of a bear called Paddington.