Most parents are probably familiar with Michael Rosen’s beloved children’s tale and the watercolour illustrations of Helen Oxenbury (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice Through the Looking Glass.) If not, the award-winning story follows a group of young children in search for a bear. The book itself takes four minutes to read. But Lupus, the makers of The Snowman and The Snowdog have stretched the film adaptation to half an hour.
The traditional tale follows the children brother through forest, high grass, rivers and mud to a gloomy cave. Eventually they do manage to find the bear, who chases them all the way home. The animation fills in some narrative gaps and adds just a pinch of festive sorrow. The children’s teenage brother brings them on a walk to calm their curiosity because their parents (Mark Williams and Olivia Colman) have gone to visit their lonely grandmother, who is struggling with the loss of their grandfather.
The grief is felt by all the family, including the children. The innocent dialogue contains the subtext of both their current loss and the losses to come in the future. All four seasons take place during the one day, giving the short piece the feel of an epic Homeric adventure. The cold and warmth, dark and light experienced on their journey reflects the emotional highs and lows the children experience. One of the children gives the harmless bear her grandfather’s scarf and feeds him. Unlike the typical wild bear, this one is just like the children—sad, cold and lonely.
The bear itself becomes a metaphor for that grief. These stories for children generally take very difficult aspects of life and fit them into a basic narrative in an attempt to make some sense. The story is not just about a bear. The story is about passing the threshold of sweet ignorance to comprehension, which can come earlier than most of us would hope.
Oxemburg’s simple, yet effective drawings carry through to the screen adaptation. The critically acclaimed illustrator uses organic lines, creating little details of movement that add a sense of realism. The faces aren’t too detailed, allowing children to project a face onto each character. The siblings all have different coloured hair, representing diversity in family. The water coloured tones are warm and inviting, creating simple washed backgrounds against the main focus, the characters.
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is timeless. It doesn’t shy away from the harsh reality we face as adults or as children, including loss and loneliness. The animation progresses vividly but is still true to its original soft visuals. Although this is a children’s story, the short film is so engaging, anyone would respect and appreciate the work put into the small production of a big story. On the surface, it’s an adventure animation, but the hidden layer is aimed towards adults as a tale of grief, acceptance and growing up. It’s the perfect short family film for a rainy day, a winter’s evening or a lazy morning.
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