When I was a child Paddington was a cute little bear stranded in London who was in the habit of running into occasional relatively harmless misadventures with his adoptive family the Browns.

PaddingtonToday, with the release in your local cinema of Paul King’s “Paddington,” the little bear in the blue burberry and red hat has been transformed into a dynamic live-action figure who causes tidal waves and house fires while conquering crime in the heart of London. He comes complete with a super-hero adversary taxidermist intent on stuffing him for display in the London Natural History Museum.

But the real surprise in the modern retelling of the story of the bear who immigrated to London from “darkest Peru” is that he comes now with, not only a tag around his neck identifying him as a bear in need, but accompanied by a striking political message.

The current Paddington story has been transformed from a quaint children’s yarn into a morality tale on European immigration. The moral of the story is, predictably that countries should ease restrictions on immigration, embrace people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds without prejudice, and rejoice in the gifts that our differences have to offer.

To underline the seriousness of his message, at the height of the film’s drama, King has Paddington crawl into a gas oven, used to dispose of the remains of carcasses from the Natural History Museum. When the oven ignites, Paddington is forced to climb the chimney to escape.

No doubt children watching the film can be forgiven for missing the allusion to that dark period of World War II in which human beings were incinerated in gas ovens. In case the reference to the holocaust might escape the viewer, King prepared to make his point by adding to Paddington’s advenures an antique store owner who escaped the Nazis as a child, and was welcomed to England on the Kindertransport.

Paul King’s “Paddington” is a ringing plea for countries to open their borders for all beings, even those as unusual as a little bear fleeing his country after it has been devastated by an earthquake. It is a stirring call to take seriously the horrors that ensue when countries put restrictive immigration policies in place against people who need to flee danger and persecution in their own countries.

The theme song for the film carries the message perhaps with a little more gentleness than the oven scene when Pharrell Williams and Gwen Stefani sing,

So we’re in a strange new land
In Paddington station
But you end up in good hands
In the fancy British nation
You were the chosen
You’re not imposing
The Browns want you there.

We are instructed to “want” those who are different, to embrace diversity, and welcome those who  find themselves in a “strange new land,” as if they “were the chosen.”

I do not think my five and seven-year-old grand-daughters quite caught Paul King’s message when we saw his film yesterday. But it did provide opportunity for us to talk about how we treat people who are different and how we welcome those we find a little bit strange.

One can only hope that adult theatre-goers who accompany children to view King’s charming film may find that the message seeps through the humour and encourages them to open their hearts with greater generosity to those they consider foreign.

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