Paddington Bear has his trademark duffle coat, red hat and the old battered suitcase full of marmalade sandwiches ready for his arrival on cinema screens across the country later this year. The problem just months before the film is due to open is the polite bear from darkest Peru has lost his voice.
The much-loved bear, whose adventures have delighted generations of children, was to be voiced in the Hollywood movie by Oscar-winner Colin Firth. Yet fans were shocked to learn yesterday that the 53-year-old had left the project.
The first full trailer for the film was released last week, but the computer generated bear did little more than grunt. It subsequently emerged that the actor had pulled out of the film because Paddington “doesn’t have my voice”, leaving the filmmakers scrabbling for a replacement ahead of the November release date.
Marylou Thistleton-Smith, managing director of voice over agency The Voiceover Gallery, said: “It will be a massive inconvenience but it isn’t the end of the world for the filmmakers. I was surprised he had been chosen for that part in the first place, because I don’t think his voice matches.”
She added that in jobs like this “just because they’re celebrities doesn’t mean their right for the job. They obviously want a big name but that character needs the right voice. I would have thought Paddington is a big enough name in himself”.
The voiceover agency chief said it was not common for actors to drop out at this late stage “but often we wouldn’t hear about it. It’s not that problematic as you can bring in someone else to revoice it.”
Colin Firth's career in pictures
Colin Firth's career in pictures
1/9 Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones's Diary
Firth sports a knitted Rudolph jumper in 2001's hit rom-com Bridget Jones's Diary
2/9 Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice
Colin Firth played Mr Darcy in a 1995 BBC adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Women everywhere continue to swoon at 'that' white shirt lake scene.
3/9 John 'Jack' Worthing in The Importance of Being Earnest
Colin Firth with Frances O'Connor in 2002's adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest
4/9 George in A Single Man
Firth got up close and personal with Matthew Goode in Tom Ford's 2009 directorial debut about a depressed gay professor living in Southern California in the early Sixties.
5/9 King George VI in The King's Speech
Colin Firth won an Oscar for his role as the stuttering monarch in this 2010 film alongside Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush.
6/9 Arthur Newman in Arthur Newman
Colin Firth with Emily Blunt in 2012's Arthur Newman, about a former professional golfer who fakes his own death to escape a life of failure.
7/9 Harry Deane in Gambit
Colin Firth gave comedy a go in this hit 2012 movie about two criminals who embark on a mission to steal a priceless antique.
8/9 Eric in The Railway Man
Firth starred alongside Nicole Kidman as Eric in Jonathan Teplitzky's 2013 war film about a British officer who is captured by the Japanese and sent to a POW camp to work on the Thai-Burma railway.
9/9 Ron Lax in Devil's Knot
The English actor starred as private investigator Ron Lax in this 2013 crime drama about three teenagers convincted for killing three young boys.
Last year Samantha Morton was replaced as the voice of a computer by Scarlett Johansson in post-production for the Spike Jonze film Her.
Paddington tells the story of the bear’s arrival in London and meeting the Brown family who give him a home. The live action stars include Nicole Kidman, Jim Broadbent and Hugh Bonneville, while Paddington has been rendered with graphics by Framestore, the visual effects company behind Gravity.
Firth, who won an Oscar for The King’s Speech, about a monarch finding his voice, announced news of his departure today. In a statement referencing the phrase used by Gwyneth Paltrow to reveal her separation from Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, the actor said: After a period of denial we’ve chosen ‘conscious uncoupling’.”
He said: “It’s been bittersweet to see this delightful creature take shape and come to the sad realisation that he simply doesn’t have my voice,” adding: “I’ve had the joy of seeing most of the film and it’s going to be quite wonderful.”
Director Paul King said: “We love the voice and we love the bear, but as our young bear came into being we agreed that the two didn’t seem to fit.”
After his involvement was announced last year, Firth said he hoped to bring a “slight Peruvian flavour” to Paddington’s accent and revealed that some of the expressions and muscle movements in the bear’s face had been modelled on his own.
Ms Thisleton-Smith said: “It’s a different way of acting; he may not have got into it. You have to really overdo it because it’s not how you would speak naturally.”
“The problem is often they record the voice first and then create the animation to the voice. The new person may have to match the voice to the animation that already exists.”
Paddington marked his 50th anniversary in 2008, with author Michael Bond writing the first new novel for three decades, Paddington Here and Now.
The books have been translated into 30 languages selling more than 30 million copies. They were initially inspired by a bear Bond saw in a shop near Paddington Station, which now has a bronze sculpture of the character.
The movie is scheduled to hit UK cinemas on 28 November.