UK TV review: The Tiger Who Came to Tea
James R | On 25, Dec 2019
From The Snowman to The Gruffalo, animating kids’ picture books into short films is one of TV’s most rewarding, and underappreciated, traditions. This year, Channel 4 reunites with Lupus Films, who made their deeply moving We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, to bring The Tiger Who Came to Tea to the screen, and the result is a delectable treat.
The opening of the book, written by Judith Kerr (who sadly passed away earlier this year), is known to kids and parents across the UK, as Sophie (Clara Ross) and her mum (Tamsin Grieg) hear a ring at the door in the middle of tea. “I wonder how that can be?” The answer, of course, is the titular tiger, who guzzles tea and slurps tap water until Sophie and her mum have effectively been eaten out of house and home.
Joanna Harrison’s script smartly allows the story to unfold with lots of breathing room, without embellishing or altering the menu. David Oyelowo is gorgeous as the tiger, purring his way through dialogue in way that will warm every inch of your body, even as he laces his grinning presence with a playful sense of menace. Grieg and Ross, meanwhile, have just the right level of sincerity and intimacy, and Benedict Cumberbatch has fun as here father who is surprised to find out his beer has been drunk. In the background, David Walliams holds it all together with a calm narration.
But what’s remarkable about The Tiger Who Came to Tea is how little words and speech there are. Closer to The Snowman than one of the BBC’s many excellent Julia Donaldson adaptations, the focus is very much on the animation – and rightly so. With thousands of hand-drawn frames flipping together, the familiar tale comes to life in a whole new way, with the intricately simple illustrations oozing with a playful charm and wit.
As for the food, it’s guaranteed to get your tummy rumbling, as cheese, cookies, poultry, fruit and toiletries are all guzzled and devoured with abandon. There’s still something exciting about seeing this subversive, unexpected force of nature erupt into domestic normality, almost taking advantage of hospitality, if it weren’t for the good-natured way in which they all interact – something that’s captured by Robbie Williams’ gleeful song, Hey Tiger. The lyrics by the great Don Black are a joy in their own right, celebrating the joy of opening a door and letting someone in, the pleasure of sharing a biscuit with a stranger, and the importance of grabbing happiness while it lasts. “Today won’t come around again,” Williams trills. Fortunately, in today’s catch-up age, this delight can be gobbled up as many times as you like.