OK, so my wife was interested in seeing Christopher Robin, so we did. It’s mostly harmless, a silly children’s movie, that mainly suffered because it was predictable and didn’t have much of a sense of humor over a patently absurd situation.
But it got me wondering about teddy bear movies. There’s a surprising number of them for what is actually an extremely limited genre. There’s this one, and two Paddington movies, and the bro-dude version, Ted. Why? And when you think about it, their plots are painfully similar.
There is a family. The male figure is a bumbling jerk who doesn’t appreciate the importance of love and family (Ewan McGregor, or Hugh Bonneville, or Mark Wahlberg), and the movie is entirely about his redemption as he learns to love others. The female figure is an attractive, interesting person (Hayley Atwell, Sally Hawkins, Mila Kunis) who is totally wasted in the role — she’s there to prop up the male figure’s character development. In all but Ted there is a sad, wise child or two, pining for their poor daddy. The magic bear shows up, who is basically a kind-hearted naif who keeps screwing up, and there are a series of misadventures that lead to Ewan, Hugh, or Mark growing up and becoming a more mature, doting husband/papa/person.
No one actually questions the existence of a talking, sentient stuffed animal. It is simply accepted. This is weird, and in addition to the predictable plot, kept drawing me out of the movie universe. I mean, even the endless string of superhero movies have moments of self-examination, where people wonder why these super-beings are here, and there are even plots where normal humans struggle to control them. But walking, talking teddy bears? How sweet! Let’s have conversations.
I couldn’t help but wonder what I’d do if a favorite childhood toy showed up one day (it doesn’t help that my childhood favorite was Horrible Hamilton), and started bumbling about, giving me life advice.
At least that’s an easy one to answer. I have a lab! I can never understand why these sentient stuffed animals aren’t being whisked off for a detailed analysis.
I guess that means I wouldn’t grow and develop as a functioning, socialized human being, but at least I’d be a step closer to understanding consciousness, the mind, and alternative patterns of cognition than you are, so there.
I would watch a horror movie about childhood toys returning to wreak vengeance on their former owners.
In response to point 1, blame capitalism.
Your point 2 is is the teddy bear biology equivalent of complaining about dodgy physics in star wars movies.
Jeff Powell says
I have to ask… what is your opinion of musicals?
myeck waters says
Christopher Robin 2, coming in 2020:
Pooh develops an increasingly deep bond with Christopher’s wife and his daughter. Finally, they leave him. He ends up moping in the front room with Eeyore.
Close, but not quite: There’s the Five Nights at Freddy’s games and a movie in the works.
YOB - Ye Olde Blacksmith says
Because the notion of a competent, engaged, and compassionate father figure is unrealistic. “Real” fathers aren’t like that, doncha know.
Everyone likes talking animals: Watership Down, Peter Rabbit, Bugs Bunny, Kung Fu Panda, Rocket Raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy, etc. Even talking trees and mountains. But talking fake animals goes too far.
So basically you empathise with Nicole Kidman’s character in the first Paddington film?
Bernard Bumner says
Not every film can or should be unorthodox, but perhaps the better question is not why this story is told so often, but why it is told so often and so often told badly? There is room for this story to be told well repeatedly, but it should be alongside other stories that portray other realities and voices.
From what I’ve heard, Christopher Robin is entirely a misstep, expecting children to sympathise with the travails of grown man suffering from the pressures of work, but crucially without placing Pooh at the centre of the story.
My perception of Mrs Brown’s (Sally Hawkins) role in Paddington didn’t reflect yours, and certainly not in Paddington 2. I thought she was as well utilised as any of the human characters. The films as a whole are not afraid of giving female characters screen time and important things to do.
All of the humans play second fiddle to the bear in the action, and whilst it is true that there is something of a cliche around the gender dynamics of the marriage. It is true that Mr Brown is serious but somewhat distractedly hapless, whereas Mrs Brown is friendlier and more expressive those are the characters as written by Michael Bond. I imagine that there would be civil disorder on the streets of England if anyone attempted to change those.
It isn’t atypical of many family dynamics where fathers are forced to take on the role of Breadwinner – whether or not both earn, and whether or not he earns more. There is a cultural expectation that fathers drudge long hours away from their family and that they are the secondary parent. This is a common reality that may be subverted in some stories, but go unchallenged in others aside from offering that familiar redemptive arc. It is possibly forgivable when played with generosity, as I think it is here, rather than simply as a lazy mechanic to provide laughs.
It is also true that Mrs Brown is the human and humane heart of the first film. Once again, there may be something of a cliche about motherhood tied up in that role and her portrayal, but it fits the characters and departure from or subversion of that is a different film entirely. It is apparently the case that Sally Hawkins chose to portray the character that way based on her own experience and notions of motherhood. So perhaps art reflecting life in the most comfortably middle-class manner? This is not a socially challenging film, and the source material is also completely devoid of darkness or peril.
All of that is to say that I found both Paddington films to be charming children’s films (and my son loves them). Perhaps if you aren’t engaged sufficiently to surrender to their whimsy and lack of modernity, then those characters and plot may instead seem irritating and cliched. Nostalgia may play a large role in the British affection for this film, since the Paddington books and previous television series were immensely popular and prominent in the childhood era of a large section of current UK parents and grandparents.
I may have thought about this too much.
slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says
It is the first movie on my 2C list.
My impression, initially, is it is not so much about reviving the Pooh bear, as much as exploring the maturation of Christopher, who has become adult, reluctantly, and had to abandon the Hundred Acre Wood.
The emotional struggle of abandoning childhood for adulthood is what I hope to see from this film.
I also had the impression that this may be a reaction to Paddington Bear becoming a movie, rather than a follow-on.
Winnie the Pooh and friends, and Christopher Robin has been such a big part of so many childhoods that it seems reasonable to explore what becomes of Christopher after growing up. I know I may be expecting too much, but whatever happens happens.
I don’t quite fully comprehend the OP reaction.
Still gonna see it.
consciousness razor says
Well, maybe my experience is unusual, but I don’t get it. For quite a few years, my dad worked long hours, mostly night shifts as well as most weekends. So, he was usually sleeping or working whenever I was home (not at school, etc.). I just didn’t get to see him much as a kid. Sure, that was upsetting for me sometimes, but that certainly didn’t make him an uncaring asshole, unable to connect emotionally, immature, or whatever. Far from it. He just had to work a lot and had to make the most of our time together otherwise, which is exactly what he did. There is no redemptive story to tell here, because he wasn’t doing anything wrong in the first place. (It also wasn’t good for laughs … don’t know what that’s supposed to be about.)
To me, it sounds like what you’re describing (which is not to say endorsing) is just a shitty excuse for being a bad parent. People definitely love to make excuses for themselves, and maybe that’s what resonates somehow or what makes us comfortable with seeing ourselves presented that way. In any case, it’s not as if drudging long hours just goes hand in hand with being a “bumbling jerk” sort of dad. It doesn’t seem like they actually have anything to do with one another, except in the sense that it’s a common trope in movies, TV shows, books, etc.
Richard Smith says
In summary: PZ pooh-poohs Pooh? Perhaps.
@12 Richard Smith
Poopyhead pooh-poohs Pooh’s poor pic.
The thing I never understood about the Five Nights At Freddy’s games was why any of the characters came back after the first night. You think that they’d have left town and possibly the country.
Really? How many sapient creatures do you kidnap for your insane experiments, PZ? Or the sane ones, come to that.
My first thought when seeing the trailer was, “How many people remember that Christopher Robin Milne was actually a real person?” He lived until 1996. (With rather a love-hate relationship with his fictional counterpart after his father’s stories got published, unsurprisingly.)
Hunh, apparently C.R. Milne was a dedicated atheist to his deathbed.
Shorter PZ: In E.T., the government were the good guys.
Winnie the Pooh – honey addict.
I’m going to be that guy and point out that Paddington wasn’t a teddy bear.
I’ll grant that for all intents and purposes he might as well have been one.
Also 4 movies does not a genre make.
Actually I’m grouchy because I saw the title of this post and thought the genre referred to was career oriented man with who abandoned childhood wonder has it shaken back into him, which is good thing, because childhood wonder is so much more important the adult rationalism. I was truly dreading this movie as bryanfeir points out @16 was a real person who …. well, this film just doesn’t cut it for me.
(I thought the disfunctional film “Goodbye Christopher Robin” was pretty good.)
@14 Or burnt done the pallor before leaving.
I think the man-child trope is so common because screenwriters are lazy. With a man-child it’s not that hard to show character growth because, well they haven’t grown up. Cleaning their place up, holding down a job, and being more considerate to others doesn’t take much effort to show. Hence they become a favoured trope for comedies.
Michael Sparks says
All will be better when we have a live action Calvin and Hobbes movie.
I’ll see match your ET government agents with MIB, and raise you with Killer Klowns from Outer Space.
Mike Smith says
Fun fact: there’s something like 150+ Singing Cowboy films.
There’s also like 50ish Women in Cages films.
6 or so talking teddies is not genre. It’s a trope.
Anyway, Christopher Robin is really good but it’s not really meant for children. It’s meant for adults who grew up with the Pooh books. Also the film is filled with jokes.
Pretty sure Paddington is supposed to be a real bear, not stuffed. And in Ted no one questions the talking stuffed animal because the bulk of the story takes place like 25 or some such years after he comes to life, so everyone is just used to it. If I remember correctly (I only saw it once) there’s even a montage showing the world going nuts over him but the interest dying down over the years.
John Morales says
Wrong. Wrongity-wrong with curlicues.
Leaving aside that, from what I’ve read here, the movie is about people and the talking non-humans are just a prop, I note that I’ve always found anthropomorphised animals most irritating. Grr.
(Anecdote: I was ejected from a primary school trip to a cinema when I was around 12 yo for the purposes of seeing a Beatrice Potter ballet flick, where people wearing animal costumes pranced about*, due to my comments about its overtly abject stupidity. Stood me in good stead, I avoided such subsequent torture sessions by virtue of my unmanageable disruptiveness — same as my first school “social”. ‘Twas best for everyone involved, so kudos to those who made that decision)
So, yeah, I assure you that I, at least, personally find talking animals the very opposite of likable. Absurdly, vexingly stupid unless pointedly metaphorical. I doubt I’m the only one.
Leaving aside the fucking stupidity of doing aerobic activity while wearing fur suits which restrict proper movement. And yeah, an aspect of it was my attitude (unchanged) towards ballet in general. Bah.
Dolls has a giant monster teddy that eats bad parents, for about half a second. Good schlock, almost a hint of a moral lesson, no sap required.
John Morales says
Strong childhood memory. Here’s a clip about that abomination:
Assuming that this is not some kind of joke, you seem to miss an important part of human characteristics: suspension of disbelief. If this is your approach, why do you watch movies altogether? Do you know, yes, that even in the most realistic movie you’ll ever see there are people filming and directing the actors? And that the actors are, well, acting? Like, pretending do live certain situations or feel some emotions?
This probably explains to me why you do find it is bad to fantasize about groping a woman you meet somewhere. Fantasy is..fantasy, it does not need to relate with reality. Any 5yo kid can explain this to you.
chigau (違う) says
How nice of you to declare it, but it was already obvious that you are one.
The second Paddington movie is not about the salvation of the father– the story is about the bear and the effect he has on his community, both the neighborhood he lived in and the prison to which he is sent. It’s a film celebrating civility, kindness, compassion, and diversity, and it is absolutely marvelous. Certainly one of the best family films I’ve seen- I’d put it up there with the original Babe and The Iron Giant- and I’d even go so far as to say it’s one of the best films I’ve seen in years (which since you don’t know me, doesn’t and shouldn’t mean anything to you, but I’m an artist/novelist with experience in film/tv, and watch way too many films of all genres, eras, and types, for whatever that is worth)
Haven’t seen the first film, so I don’t know if it’s as good. I took my kids to Christopher Robin and found it pleasant, but fairly dull. Not sure who was supposed to invest in the story of the overworked dad- certainly not my kids.
I haven’t seen any of these movies, but based on the trailers, Ted 2 seems to be about his struggle to be legally recognized as a sentient being. So… there’s that?
I never saw the second one, but the concept kinda seemed silly, given that he’d had a job, paid taxes, and rents an apartment. Like, in the intervening 2.5 decades they never sorted that stuff out?
Adrian Luca says
Paddington isn’t a stuffed bear; he’s an actual bear from Peru. Sheesh!