“There’s nothing wrong with being sad. It’s just a way of remembering the happy times.”
Who doesn’t have fond memories of being read We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, or reading it to your own kids? Michael Rosen, a veritable national treasure of poetry and children’s literature, crafted something brilliantly simple in his picture book. First published back in 1989 and spanning just 36 pages, it celebrated adventure and revelled in onomatopoeia. Expanding that simplicity into a 30-minute story is a challenge, but this Channel 4 animation does a brilliantly graceful job.
That’s perhaps no surprise, given it’s from the people who adapted Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman and The Snowman and The Snowdog for the screen. Helen Oxenbury’s illustrations are brought to life with a beautifully faithful eye, while Rosen’s familiar chant is a treat to hear out loud – particularly when our young heroes (voiced by Elsie Cavalier, Ozzie Latta and Macready Massey) start changing the words to “poo hunt”.
But this short film’s added runtime comes from a hint of melancholy that underpins the whole affair, as we join the kids after the loss of their grandad. Olivia Colman voices their mother, Mark Williams their dad and Pam Ferris their grandma, each one bringing a gentle note of pathos and tragedy to their supporting roles. The family’s sad loss is echoed by the bear’s own lack of friends, as we see him, after their cheerful, colourful hunt, trudge back to his cave alone. It’s a surprising decision from directors Joanna Harrison and Robin Shaw, just enough to add a poignant element to this familiar tale, but Harrison’s script balances it carefully, so it never overshadows the joy on-screen elsewhere, from sloshing through mud to (in a standout sequence) the children making music with their parents. The sadness at the end? That only makes those happy memories all the brighter. This is charming stuff.