coverImg-Paddington Bear

Paddy Paddy

Move over sheep, the bear is coming through. The small, courteous creature with the prudent stash of marmalade sandwiches under his hat is conquering the universe, making Paddington the highest grossing family movie outside Hollywood.

With several more countries left to vanquish, the film version of Michael Bond’s immortal hero passed the $200m (£131m) box office mark at the weekend. It’s still lagging some distance behind Frozen, which has taken more than $1.3bn and rising, the fifth highest grossing film in box office history – but Frozen cost the Disney studio $150m, while Paddington was made for about a third of the cost at $55m, still a terrifying fortune for a European independent.

The film’s charm and good humour – and some contemporary relevance on attitudes to immigration in its subplot – have won over much of the world, in a film with no violence except the threat of Paddington ending up in formaldehyde as a museum specimen, and no sex except the improbable passion aroused by Hugh Bonneville, abandoning his starched collars as the Earl of Grantham in Downton Abbey for a cleaning lady’s flowery overall and headscarf.

One of the concerns over the film was how well the character of the bear from darkest Peru, created by Michael Bond in 1958, would travel outside the countries where the stories have been children’s favourites for more than half a century. In fact the film has been a hit in markets including South Korea, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Paddington’s biggest star is Nicole Kidman as a murderous scientist on the staff of the Natural History Museum, and there are chunky cameo roles for a raft of British character actors including Peter Capaldi, Julie Walters, and Sally Hawkins. Paddington himself is mostly computer generated, with some animatronic work. Bonneville was quoted on the difficulties this caused for his co-stars: “Most of the time he was just a stick with a bear’s head on the top.”

The only scandal – apart from the raised eyebrows when Colin Firth walked, apparently voluntarily deciding he wasn’t right as the voice of the bear, to be replaced by Ben Whishaw – was the mixture of hilarity and incredulity when the British Board of Film Classification gave the film a PG certificate, seemingly concerned that children might surf in bath tubs down flooded stairs or skateboard through London clinging on to the back of a bus, or perhaps grow long brown fur and duffle coats.

The censors had to clarify that despite the rating, they regarded the use of bad language as infrequent and the sex references mild.