Thousands of people gathered last weekend in front of Buckingham Palace in London to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's Platinum Jubilee. But only one lucky person had access to the inner halls and was able to have tea with the monarch: Paddington Bear. The famous and tender character of Michael Bond has become a trending topic once again, although in this case in the surprising context of the 70 years of Elizabeth's regency.
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The two minute BBC video has gone viral for two reasons. In the first place, because the president of the English royal house has agreed to make a comic sketch despite her delicate state of health at 96 years of age. The last time she did something similar was a decade ago at the London Olympics, where she appeared escorted by Daniel Craig's James Bond. In addition, her appearance as a guest star at the Buckingham party underpins Paddington as a phenomenon on a global scale and at the same time deeply British.
This on par if not better than the Olympic James Bond scene.
The Queen having tea with Paddington - incredible that at 96 and after 70 years on the throne she still has the power to surprise #platinumpartyatthepalace pic.twitter.com/88NP1ScpXx
— Michael Cowan (@mrmikecowan) June 4, 2022
Paddington's international trail began in 2014 with the films directed by Paul King, the highest grossing non-Hollywood family films. But the adventures of the bear dressed as a cabin boy began a long time ago. In 1956, BBC cameraman Michael Bond returned home for Christmas without a present for his first wife.
He walked down Oxford Street, spotted an inadvertent teddy bear and bought it to put in his boot. Ten days after Christmas Eve, with Bond sitting tirelessly at his typewriter, the puppet went from a desperate gift to the inspiration for the best-selling children's story A Bear Named Paddington.
The book told the story of a teddy bear addicted to jam, from "the darkest and most remote Peru" and abandoned in a train station who is adopted by a British family. Nobody wanted to publish it at first. Seven publishers turned it down and Collins ended up paying him £75 to edit it and release it in 1958. Such was the acceptance that Paddington spawned 13 sequels, was translated into 40 languages and sold 35 million copies worldwide. In 1975 they turned it into a stop-motion series and exported it to several countries. In Spain, it was broadcast on TVE, ETB and TV3.
In addition to the cuddly toy, Bond's inspiration was drawn from refugee children in the UK during World War II, especially the Hungarians, with their trained English and labeled belongings. “They all had a tag around their neck with their name and address and a little case containing all their prized possessions,” the late writer told The Guardian in 2014. Paddington, who is an undocumented migrant, was later an allegory of expatriates from the Commonwealth. But the symbol of tolerance that he represents today began with the movies of 2014.
The bear of the “refugees welcome”
Between the premiere of Paddington (2014) and Paddington 2 (2017), the biggest refugee crisis in recent European history took place, institutional racism settled in countries like the US, and the British voted to leave the European Union. Important newspapers such as The Atlantic, Vox, New Yorker or The Guardian began to analyze the film in terms of human rights and as “anti-UKIP propaganda” (the British independence party).
A lawyer specialized in migration analyzed it in the Financial Times, “as if Paddington were my client”: “In his new environment his customs and manners cause all kinds of misunderstandings. Some open-minded and open-hearted people welcome you. Others reject it. Some simply turn their backs on him, but others are more openly hostile, worried that more like him will follow him," the lawyer wrote. After describing the context and current legality, the lawyer foresaw that "Paddington would most likely be arrested in one of our virulently multiplied immigration detention spaces."
In both the books and Paddington 2, the bear affably defies authority. The virtue of the Peruvian bear, as reported in the New Yorker, is that it represents a "healthy fable" about "how vital the contribution of that newcomer could be [el migrante] and how it could enrich with a culture [la latinoamericana] which extends even before the forgotten Anglo-Saxon culture”.
The best film in history (for four years)
Beyond political meanings, world critics unanimously embraced the recent versions of Paddington. The first Paddington had to settle for 93%, but the 2017 sequel went on to receive the precious and extremely rare 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. The only film that had reached the plenary before was Citizen Kane and fell to 99% because of a bad review. And the same thing happened to Paul King's bear.
In 2021, the world's most famous film review platform uploaded Film Authority's unfavorable review of Eddie Harrison. The journalist described it as "contrived and ridiculous" and even criticized the film's social moral: "Considerations of race and identity, key to Paddington's character, are not addressed," he assured.
The devastating criticism made Paddington 2 dropped to 99% and lose the label of best film in history four years after its release. The networks responded furiously and Harrison spoke out saying that he would not give in to pressure: he was not going to change even a comma of his review.
The Peruvian bear that eats jelly sandwiches continues to amass 249 positive reviews and an unusual international interest for a children's story turned into two films. But there it goes. The account that includes him every day with Photoshop in frames of classic films and current series such as The Squid Game has hundreds of thousands of followers and his tweets accumulate tens of thousands of likes and the most iconic royal saga in Europe knows it. That is why it allowed him to join Brian May, Rod Stewart, Alicia Keys, Andrea Bocelli, George Ezra or Elton John in the great monarchist party of recent years.
I Photoshop paddington into a movie or TV show until I forget: Day 450 pic.twitter.com/mU6OPrhezf
— Jaythechou (@jaythechou) June 2, 2022