Audiences have been trained to think of movies with CGI talking animals and live-action humans as uninspired cash grabs. That attitude might change after Paddington, an absolutely delightful adaptation of the beloved children’s books by Michael Bond. The film stars Ben Whishaw (Skyfall) as the voice of Paddington Bear, an immigrant trying to find a home in Great Britain, and experiencing culture shock and eventually acceptance in the Brown family, who takes the bear in and protects him from a taxidermist played by Nicole Kidman.
Excellent adaptations of beloved British children’s literature are the stock and trade of producer David Heyman, who is also the producer of the Harry Potter series and the upcoming spin-off Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. We sat down with David Heyman in Beverly Hills to discuss how he avoided turning Paddington into just another kids movie, the sequence of events that led Colin Firth (who was originally cast as Paddington) to exit the film, and why Paddington is still relevant today.
And of course we asked about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, working with J.K. Rowling and why he once thought that the Harry Potter movie franchise might never be completed.
CraveOnline: I grew up with a vague awareness of Paddington. I think I read the books a little bit, but they weren’t a part of my childhood.
David Heyman: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Where did you grow up? Here, right?
I grew up here. I grew up reading a lot of British material though.
That’s probably why.
What about you? Was Paddington part of your childhood?
Definitely. I read Paddington when I was a child. It was probably one of the first books that I read, and my mum gave me a Paddington doll. In fact, when it was announced, when I told her that we were doing the film, or developing the film, she brought out the bear from storage. [Laughs.] The merchandise bear had Wellington boots…
“I think polemic is dangerous in film…”
They had those so it would stand up, right?
Exactly. That was the reason why they were there. They weren’t part of the original incarnation. It was a merchandising accoutrement. So I was aware of it then. And then he disappeared for me. You know, I grew up. Then somebody in my office said I should have a look at the books, re-read the books, and I did. She gave me a compendium. They’re great! They’re really funny, and I was amazed that there was humor that I would enjoy, not just that young children would enjoy. When we were making the film that was really a conscious decision and one of the reasons for hiring Paul [King, the director] actually.
Where you a “Mighty Boosh” fan?
A big “Mighty Boosh” fan, and I’d seen his film Bunny and the Bull, which was an art house film but had this sequence in it where the sets were designed with line drawings. They’re made up entirely of line drawings, which was the Paddington Bear TV show. So I discovered that he knew more about Paddington than I did, that he was as passionate about it as I was, and his subversive humor was actually great for Paddington, because you want Paddington to be what he is: which is an innocent, decent, direct, good values, immigrant […] Because that’s what he is: an immigrant. He’s a metaphor for all the immigrants coming to the U.K. post-World War.
Good on you for addressing that directly. I think that’s something that would go over a lot of kids’ heads.
Yeah, what I quite like about it is I think polemic is dangerous in film, and I think generally when you’re making message films you’re preaching to the converted, because those are the only people who are going to go to those films.
It’s so obvious that the message is in the film that you’ll stay away if you don’t agree with the message.
Yeah, exactly! So what I love about Paddington and the way Paul’s handled it is that actually, I think the message is kindness to strangers, what a stranger can bring to you… both the band, the calypso band, which is a music form that was very big in the Notting Hill area, British Calypso is rooted there in the West Indian community, which is where the Browns actually live in Michael Bond’s books. But that sense of the kindness of strangers, the kindness to strangers and the immigrant coming in, the outsider. We all feel like outsiders. It felt to me as germane today is it did when it was first [written].