Who would have thought a cute kids’ film, released in the festive season for feel-good family cinema trips, would cause such a storm of controversy?
And yet Paddington seems to have waded foot first into a ratings row, wellie boots and all.
Awarded a PG rating, the film’s censors warned sensitive parents of the heebie-jeebies that lay in store for their little ones, including: ‘dangerous behaviour, mild threat, mild sex references and mild bad language’.
Now on general release, potential viewers may be relieved to learn that the film was last week reclassified by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) as featuring ‘innuendo’ rather than ‘sex references’.
As Frankie Howerd would almost certainly say – oo-er.
My first response to this row is a general annoyance with the BBFC’s classification policy.
I’ve spent far too long trying to work out which specific episodes of swearing constituted the ‘two incidents of very strong language’ the BBFC warned about.
These explicit (yet somehow also cryptic) instructions about the film’s contents provide an unwelcome distraction.
As well as giving away the plot, it also misses the point.
Family films frequently operate on multiple levels, offering jokes and innuendo for grown-ups that kids are unlikely to even pick up on.
Apparently the controversial scene features a male character dressed up as a woman who is flirted with by another man.
There may also be some allusions to ‘stuffing’ made by an evil taxidermist played by Nicole Kidman.
Adults may be too distracted by how strangely stuffed Nicole Kidman’s face looks these days to pick up on the sexual innuendo.
Kids, on the other hand, won’t have a clue.
It’s like the famous optical illusion trick involving dolphins painted on a ceramic jar. What looks like an intimate embrace between a man and a woman to adults simply looks like dolphins swimming in a happy pod to children, who don’t possess the sexual references required to even ‘see’ the adult picture (with its artfully place dolphin tails).
We only recognise what we know how to see.
It’s a powerful point that impacts on many of our attempts to communicate with those whose understanding of the world may be different to ours.
Just think about all the communication systems we’ve set up to make contact with intelligent alien life forms. What looks like a few dolphins to us might look like something completely different to them – or it might not be visible at all.
Eventually, kids grow up to see the saucy couple just like adults do.
But in the meantime, why taint their innocence by pointing out the specific parts of a film that involve peril or innuendo? It’s almost like forcing them to see beyond the dolphins before they’re even interested in doing so.
I was always keen to seize on innuendo from an early age, though. Once I made my mum laugh so much while driving she had to pull over. I’d told her a smutty joke I’d heard concerning the difference between giraffes and JCBs.
If the giraffe had high boy bits, I wondered, what did it mean that the JCB had ‘high drollocks’?
Once she’d calmed down, Mum explained the mechanics of hydraulics and it seemed to make more sense.
It’s a bit late now, but here’s a BBFC spoiler alert -
‘Involves one episode of a minor using strong language she doesn’t really understand.’