Interview with the directors of the We’re Going on a Bear Hunt animation
In celebration of the DVD release of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, we have a special interview from Channel 4 with the co-directors of the film, Robin Shaw & Joanna Harrison.
What can we expect from the film adaptation of the much-loved children’s classic, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt?
RS: A fun family film where children take the centre stage. It features children who are unsupervised, out and about, meeting challenges. It’s all about that, but it’s also very moving. It takes us across all the seasons and all sorts of landscapes, and across a big emotional landscape. There are joyous moments when the children first go out and start wandering through the swishy-swashy grass, to the sad moments where Rosie, the little girl, is pining for her grandfather and the bear, and also to when the bear is on his own at the end. It’s a jam-packed half hour.
JH: It’s a kind of rollercoaster of emotions. There are funny bits, sad bits. When I was writing the treatment I was very aware that people would be watching this at Christmas, so the whole family would be there – grannies, grandpas, parents, children, teenagers, a baby, possibly even a dog, they’re all watching. And there’s something for everybody in there. It’s very much what I’d call family viewing.
The adaptation has the blessing of the book’s original author, Michael Rosen – but what’s his level of involvement been?
R: He’s been involved at every step of the way. He’s contributed to the adaptation in some ways, suggested some very good things, but he’s also playing several voices in the film. He plays the voice of the bear, not least! He’s also a wildlife presenter and a hedgehog. He really enjoys being in the thick of it.
What about Helen Oxenbury, the book’s illustrator?
Helen has been equally involved. She’ll come in and make some very, very useful and pertinent comments about the visual side of things and the general thrust of the storytelling. It’s quite interesting, because I think it echoes the way they must have worked on the book. Michael’s original imagining of the book was completely different from what actually ended up in print, and it was Helen who supplied the subtext to the words, and made the story much more complex. I think Joanna’s done the same with the film, actually.
You’ve got an excellent cast – you must be thrilled to have such big names.
J: Absolutely. They were brilliant! We’ve got Mark Williams, who was fun and funny, and he brought a real, added dimension to the dad. What we didn’t want from the film was just a generic mum and dad and children. We wanted them all to have strong personalities in their own right. And we had Pam Ferris as the grandmother, who was superb. She didn’t have many lines to say, but, my God, she said them well. And Olivia Colman was wonderful, she created a very gentle, loving mum.
R: But actually, one of the things that we feel most pleased about was how good the kids are.
Why do you think children’s books have such a special place in the national psyche?
R: Because they bond parent and child, and they have an emotional effect on both parties. And when the child grows up, they do the same thing with their children. It’s one of the loveliest things – I still miss it with my children. And even though my eldest daughter is 17, they do actually quite like it if I read them a story.
J: Also, I think they’re little lessons in life, gentle ways of introducing children to life. Bear Hunt is quite scary, but life is scary, and it’s a way for them to learn in a gentle way how to deal with it.
Did you read Bear Hunt to your children?
J: Yeah I did, definitely. Of course! Didn’t everyone?