POSTMAN PAT: THE MOVIE. Voiced by Stephen Mangan, Susan Duerden, Jim Broadbent, Ronan Keating and others. Directed by Mike Disa. Rated G (General, no consumer advice). 87 min.
This British computer-generated, animated movie is based loosely on the long-running BBC children's program, "Postman Pat". The original show was designed as a preschool program for UK television, and has been screened in Australia by the ABC.
Pat Clifton (voiced by Stephen Mangan) delivers the post in the village of Greendale in Northern England, and has done so for a long time. He is "everyone's favourite postman". People in the town appreciate what he does and look up to him. He is caring, and he is a model husband and father.
Pat wants to give his wife, Sara (Susan Duerden), a holiday to Italy and he enters a national talent contest titled "You're the One" to try to win its main prize. Pat sings so well he makes the Final and is chosen to go to London to take part in the contest. Pat becomes caught up in the marketing campaign mounted to promote him and, for a time, he puts fame ahead of family and friends. While Pat is being kept busy, his boss, Edward Carbunkle (Jim Broadbent), starts to populate Greendale with robots that look just like Pat. He thinks they can do Pat's job well and they don't ask for bonuses as Pat did. In Greendale, the robots begin delivering the mail and people start to complain. The robots behave scarily; they deliver the post in ways Pat never did; and they are rude to people in the village. Soon it is obvious that many Pats are being produced, and one even ends up singing in the Final of the talent quest, pretending to be the real Pat. The robots are all part of Carbunkle's evil plot to replace Pat with an army of replicas, destined ultimately "to take over the world".
The fact that Pat is replaced in the competition by a robot is at first not known to the audience of the talent quest. At the last moment, with many complicated plot twists in between, the real Pat unmasks Carbunkle as the villain, and Carbunkle gets his just desserts. Pat then gives a performance on stage in the Final that wins the contest and he is awarded a trip for two to Italy. The Irish singing voice of Pat is that of Ronan Keating.
With robots running around on stage and off, and given all the terrible things they do, the movie shifts moral gear to become a sci-fi adventure story. The scariness of it all is surprisingly not picked out for comment in the film's family-oriented (G) censorship classification. There is humour in the movie, but the plot dilutes it. The movie starts off by emphasising how good Pat is, and how much people like him, but then substitutes his virtuous resolve with things that go bad. The goings-on of an army of sinister robots distract from Pat's goodness, though goodness triumphs in the end.
The animation in the movie is bright and colourful, and the singing helps to maintain a lively tone. The film entertains rather than educates. If you look for them, the film contains sound messages. It reinforces the importance of maintaining friendship and the need to treat people courteously; it promotes community bonding; and it ultimately values the worth of personal relationships over fame and fortune. The complexity of the plot, however, weakens the moral impact of its messages. At one level, the film seems to be asking children if they can notice changes in Pat as robot facsimiles of him start behaving poorly, and when that happens the viewer's feelings about Pat being a good person run the risk of evaporating. At another level, the movie trades the stability of a trustworthy Pat for unpredictable reactions to sci-fi adventuring. Young children will be confused by the mix.
In the final run, this is a film that sacrifices the charm and simplicity of Postman Pat for the excitement of an adventure tale designed to appeal to a more mature audience. The movie has a plot that is suited for older, rather than younger, children in a family, and seems caught between its two target audiences.
This film offers the viewer a different "Postman Pat" from what one expects. It packages Postman Pat in an original way, but suggests character changes in its hero that some may find confusing.
Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Released August 14th., 2014