They did it! It seemed like a nigh-on-impossible task to do justice to one of the world's most iconic bears, the institution that is Paddington, by adapting Michael Bond's splendid creation for the big screen - but they have.
Paddington is the story of a lonely bear, sent to forge a new life in England, far, far away from home. He lands on his, er, paws when he is adopted by a London family - the Browns - who need him as much as he needs them.
Christmas is the perfect time for Paddington's unveiling, just as it was on Christmas Eve in 1956 when Bond's bear was born. Bond was out shopping for his wife, seeking shelter from the heavy snow in Selfridges' toy department, when he stumbled across a lonely looking bear. He named him after his local train station (just like the Brown family) and began to create the Paddington book series. A trademark hat, little duffel coat and a lot of marmalade sandwiches later and there he was - on paper at least. There was a BBC TV series, too, in the Seventies, produced by Bond, but the move to the big screen took a little more work. Seven years ago, Bond entrusted the rights to his creation to producer David Heyman, of Harry Potter and Gravity fame.
The magic of Paddington on paper - the perfectly scripted stories, the imaginative illustrations of the books (first created by Peggy Fortnum), of which there are 70 in total - goes some way to explaining sales of over 30 million copies in 30 languages around the globe. It seems that this same magic, which has been sprinkled throughout millions of unforgettable bedtime readings between mums, dads and children everywhere, has jumped from page to big screen. The messier the bear, the bigger the laughs.
So much happens in such a relatively short time in the film and yet numerous scenes stand out, only to be replayed in the happy crevices and childlike corners of the mind. I cannot wait to watch it again with those I love reading the books to.
From the beginning of the film in Darkest Peru, the realistic live- action, mixed with CGI sweeps you comfortingly straight into Paddington's world, without missing a heartbeat. If possible, there is even more warmth in the film, especially in moments like when Mrs Brown stumbles across the lonely bear in the train station, wearing nothing but a hat and a label that says, "Please look after this bear. Thank you" and convinces her family to bring him home. It's not long before he becomes one of Mrs Brown's boys.
That would be where Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins brings her quirky, warm and believable talents to play. Downton Abbey's Hugh Bonneville is perfect in the role of her husband - stiff and austere on the surface, caring, brave and funny underneath - the quintessential, traditional daddy bear. Julie Walters runs the Browns' home, and it's not long before she helps bring Paddington into the bosom of the family. Nicole Kidman steps away from type and into character as the villain, but her kids will no doubt thank her for it. She's not alone: Doctor Who and The Thick of It fans will have to look twice, but Peter Capaldi is there as her eccentric sidekick. Despite the fact that we had wrapped our heads around the idea of Colin Firth's voice as Paddington's, Ben Whishaw's gentle, grizzly tones are instantly recognisable as the Bear, the wonderful paradox of innocence and wisdom plus, of course, lovability.
This isn't one of those grin-and-bear-it (sorry - ish) kids' films; you don't need to have read the books or have children with you to enjoy Paddington - he's for everyone, as is the film. At the age of 88, Bond has seen the fruits of Heyman's work, telling The Daily Telegraph: "There's so much in it that it's quite magical. I'd give it full marks."
So would I.