We’re Going On A Bear Hunt: The bear basics of a fantastic fairytale and 2016’s top Christmas movie pick
- Credit: C4
We're going on a bear hunt. We're going to catch a big one. What a beautiful day! We're not scared…'
Any parent whose child was born after 1989 will undoubtedly have surrendered hours of their time to Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury's charming tale of the family who set out to find a bear and in doing so face a danger they'd never anticipated.
Channel 4 has commissioned an animated special based on the hugely-popular book which has been produced by the makers of The Snowman and The Snowdog (which was watched by more than 11 million people when it was shown in 2012) and will star the voices of Olivia Colman (Mum) Pam Ferris (Grandma), Mark Williams (Dad) and Michael Rosen himself, who will play the bear.
The half-hour film will expand the universe of the book for a truly festive family treat which takes viewers along for the ride with Stan, Katie, Rosie, Max the baby and Rufus the dog who are left home alone one day before Christmas when their parents go to the rescue of Grandma.
Spurred on by Katie's love of grizzly bears, the children decide it would be fun to go on a bear hunt and set off to swish and swash through the long grass, splash and splosh through rivers and squilch and squelch through mud. Then, Rufus picks up the scent of a bear…
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The new production will incorporate the irresistible story and beautiful artwork of the original book, which has recently celebrated 25 years as a bestseller and a firm family favourite at bedtime, with its wonderful message about perseverance, optimism and the determination to confront your fears head-on.
'I am very excited to be part of the project,' said Rosen. 'Helen Oxenbury's wonderful art work provides a powerful family saga full of imagined or real trials and these pictures will give a basis for a moving Christmas drama.'
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Oxenbury and Rosen teamed up after being (separately) inspired by a Scottish folk song about a bear hunt by singer Alison McMorland.
Helen was asked to design the song's record cover while Michael and his editor realised the song would make a great children's story. Bizarrely, without knowing about the record cover design, they asked if Helen would provide the illustrations.
The song had circulated around American summer camps from the 1950s and sometimes featured a lion instead of a bear. In it, children were encouraged to 'do the actions' as the hunters moved through tall grass, up a tall tree, through thick mud, across a wide river and into a dark cave.
Sung by a campfire, the final action was flicking on a flashlight in the 'cave', spotting a bear and shouting RUN!
'What's wonderful about it is that nothing is described in a way that restricts you. Michael had said he envisioned it as a king and queen and jester setting off to hunt a bear, but I immediately saw it as a group of children,' said Helen.
'Michael and I didn't meet until after the project was finished. He is the last person to inflict ideas on people: he gave me a free hand. Usually I submit preliminary sketches that are made up into dummies, but for this book I did it all in one go. I got so involved I didn't want to break off to show anyone.'
Helen based the muddy scenes in the book on the Suffolk mudflats where she owns a boathouse while the rocky beach where the bear's cave is found was inspired by a holiday in Druidstone in Pembrokeshire.
'It occurred to me three-quarters of the way through that the bear was all on his own in the cave and might have wanted some company, rather than to eat the children. I modelled his posture on the final page on a friend who had depression and whose shoulders dropped when he walked,' said Helen.
Michael didn't see the illustrations until they were finished.
In his mind, he had pictured a street carnival with a man wearing a bear suit, something more metaphorical than what he received.
'What brilliant, clever Helen and the editors 'got' and had created is that special thing that pictures books can do – which is to narrate different stories in print and in pictures. The family saga isn't in the words. The words were designed for a kind of play-song that you act out as you sing it,' he said.
'Of course anybody of any age can look at the book and experience their own troubles in Helen's pictures. Whatever level your troubles are, you can experience it and that rhythm carries you through so that in a way you have hope talking you all the way through it.'
Olivia Colman, who plays Mum, said: 'What appealed to me about the story is the bond the family have - they care for, and look after, each other.
'Another wonderful aspect of the story is that it's kids enjoying a natural adventure with their imaginations, fresh air and the wilderness. I love that they commit to their adventure…I would like to go with them!'
We're Going on a Bear Hunt is on Channel 4 at 7.30pm on Christmas Eve.