By Michael Roddy
LONDON (Reuters) - He may be among the world's best beloved bears, but he also is 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 darkest 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 television series, Paddington, with his distinctive Wellington boots, old hat and duffle coat, was portrayed by a stop-motion puppet. A 1976 movie was made with conventional animation.
The new film, though, bristles with the latest technology, including a computer-generated Paddington who, for the cast that also includes Sally Hawkins ("Blue Jasmine"), Hugh Bonneville ("Downton Abbey") and Julie Walters ("Harry Potter"), was represented during filming by a stick.
"We had the good fortune of spending a few weeks in rehearsal together ... so 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 November 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 favorite of British children for decades, but might not be as well known in the United States 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 the 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 is trying 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.
"The jeopardy ramps up throughout the story," he added. "She is very icy. She is loveable, really, even though she's evil."
Apart from the CGI bear, the film has a lush, 1950s Technicolor-style look to it, which if it makes viewers think of Christmas, curled up by the fire with a good book - preferably Paddington - that would be exactly what's intended.
"I think 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."
(Editing by Crispian Balmer)