Postman Pat: The Movie review

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Review Simon Brew 13 May 2014 - 06:13

The much beloved Postman Pat finally makes his way to the big screen. But is it worth the wait?

It's better than the trailer, let's start there. After all, the big screen debut of Postman Pat suffered from an early promo that suggested the film was not one to look forward to. As it turns out, there are merits to the Postman Pat movie, which at times feels as much like the beneficiary of a Doctor Who script conference as a stint watching children's telly. But ultimately, for all the nods to other movies (Faster Pussycat Kill Kill being the most bizarre), and for all the ideas, Pat falls just a little flat when it matters.

It starts promisingly enough. We meet Pat, now voiced by Stephen Mangan, as he goes about his work in Greendale, courtesy of a really good, extended opening shot. All the regulars are there, with the gentle, at first glance quite limited animation adding to their charm. A plot? Well Pat, we learn, wants to take his beloved Sara on a belated honeymoon to Italy with his forthcoming bonus from the Post Office. But before you can say 'undervalued sell-off', the sorting office is under new management, with complex machinery and robotics the way forward, and bonuses not very likely.

So how can Pat win this dream holiday? Er, by entering a television talent content. Pat's talent, we learn, is singing. In fact, what his talent turns out to be is magically switching voices from Stephen Mangan's to Ronan Keating's, with no obvious effort made to disguise the change. Thinking back to The Nightmare Before Christmas, the voicework on the character of Jack Skellington was done by Chris Sarandon, switching to Danny Elfman for the singing. You'd be hard pressed to spot the joins. Here, it's blaringly obvious, almost comedic.

Still, the talent show isn't quite the main narrative thrust of the film, in spite of how the aforementioned trailer made it look. Instead, there's a bigger role for Peter Woodward's Carbunkle as he extends his plans for automation than there is for Ronan Keating's vocal chords. The film does its best to throw these together in an engaging way, with limited success.

But it overeggs many of its points and jokes. The Simon Cowell spoof - Simon Cowbell - goes on and on and on. Meanwhile, fourth-wall breaking asides don't really hit, and initially creep visual sparks - and there's some surprisingly scary stuff for the very young here - run out of impact.

It's worth touching on the animation too. In the era of Pixar, DreamWorks et al, the far less detailed animation employed by Postman Pat: The Movie inevitably sticks out once you look beyond the characters themselves. You get told there's a packed room at one point, and it then appears to be anything but. A big crowd then turns out to be a small gathering. Background details feel like they're missing. Now, that's very much in keeping with the TV show, but the problem that Postman Pat: The Movie faces is that the ticket price to see it is the same as that charged by something like Rio 2. The latter, whilst a weaker film, looks dramatically better than the former, and there's no getting away from that.

Is it a problem? It's certainly noticeable, although it doesn't really get in the way. But the fact you end up distracted by it a little perhaps points to broader issues with the film's ability to hold your attention.

It's a frustrating effort. Some moments in Postman Pat: The Movie work. Mangan's voice fits well, there are a couple of good jokes, and it's breezy enough. For the very young, 90% of it hits the mark too, save for the scarier moments, although we suspect the majority of five year olds will cope with those perfectly well. But the crucial problem is that, after a good opening third or so, the film loses its way, and never really finds it again.

It's best to file this one as a valiant effort that doesn't quite work, in truth. And the fault for that? It's in a screenplay that feels like it really could have used a good deal more work. As it stands, the ingredients are certainly here for a good Postman Pat film, and Mangan's tones effortlessly breathe warmth into the character. But the final film just isn't satisfying enough.

Postman Pat: The Movie comes out in the UK on 23 May.

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