Paddington joins Kidman in movie

LONDON - He may be among the world's most beloved bears, but he is also one of the most endangered in the new movie Paddington, in which Nicole Kidman co-stars as a taxidermist looking to complete her collection of rare animals.

Due for release later this year, the live-action feature film based on the marmalade-loving bear from Peru has been a long time coming.

Created by author Michael Bond in the 1950s, some 30 million books following the bear's various adventures have been sold worldwide.

Turned into a popular TV series, Paddington - with his distinctive Wellington boots, old hat and duffle coat - was portrayed by a stop-motion puppet. A 1976 movie was made using conventional animation.

The new film, though, bristles with the latest technology, including a computer-generated Paddington who was represented during filming by a stick for the cast, which also includes Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine), Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) and Julie Walters (Harry Potter).

"We had the good fortune of spending a few weeks in rehearsal we were able to get used to the 'spirit of the bear'," Bonneville said at a press screening of excerpts from the movie, which will be released in Britain on Nov 28 and in the United States on Christmas Day.

With the starry cast and with French producer StudioCanal backing the film, directed by the young British director Paul King (The Mighty Boosh), there are high hopes this could be the start of another worldwide conquest for the bear that has been a favourite of British children for decades, but might not be as well known in the US as Winnie-the-Pooh.

"I loved the script, I thought it was really funny and quirky," Hawkins said at a press briefing where - what else? - marmalade sandwiches were served.

"I loved the idea that he's an outsider needing to be brought in," she said of Paddington's forlorn appearance at Paddington Station in London.

Fresh off the boat from Peru, but totally lost and starving, he is adopted by the Brown family, played by Hawkins, Bonneville and child actors Samuel Joslin and Madeleine Harris.

"There's something wonderful about that and it's very inclusive, the film, the way that it's about understanding somebody who is different," Hawkins said.

The plot - as much as was revealed in a few excerpts - involves Paddington being ever so polite and decorous, to the extent he is able to be as a bear who eats with his paws and tends to fall into his food.

He also has a penchant for misunderstanding simple situations, which leads to a chase through the streets of London in which he tries to return a wallet - to a pickpocket.

The heavy-duty villainry, however, comes in the form of Kidman as an unethical employee of the Natural History Museum who has Paddington in her sights - "so you know where the plot is heading", Bonneville said.

Apart from the computer-generated bear, the film has a lush, 1950s Technicolor look to it which, if it makes viewers think of Christmas, curled up by the fire with a good book - preferably Paddington - would be exactly what's intended.

"It's a universal story, I think we've all felt like Paddington does, alone, without friends or family," Hawkins said. "He's a refugee and he's taken into this home, so I think we can all relate to that.

"It's all about love, really."

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