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Gordon and Paddy (2017)

Gordon is the chief of police in his part of the forest. He's an old toad now, he's physically slow but his mind is still sharp. When investigating the case of some stolen nuts he meets a mouse with no name, no home and no profession. He sees something in her, names her Paddy and offers to train her as his assistant and eventually his successor as the chief. Along the way there are cases to solves, life events to overcome and a fox to deal with.

Gordon and Paddy was released in Sweden in 2017 and received its UK premiere at the London Film Festival in 2018. It is directed (and produced) by Linda Hambäck and based on a series of books written by Ulf Nilsson and illustrated by Gitte Spee. Nilsson had a part in the script for the film too.

From the moment the film starts the score - a mix of string and synth - pulls you into a sumptuous forest world. I couldn't help but be reminded of the illustrations by Axel Scheffler in the Gruffalo. Unlike the animated Gruffalo, however, Gordon and Paddy is a flat 2D hand-drawn animation with minimal CG effects (the rain and snow primarily, but it blends exceptionally well). The forest is shown through the seasons and the little forest dwellings are very cute! You get the sense that the forest is large but the world they all inhabit is at their scale most of the time.

The character acting is really good. Each of the forest creatures we meet exhibits the traits we'd expect from their real-life counterparts. Of course, the best is saved for Gordon and Paddy. Gordon has a weight and sluggishness to him that fits his age and our perception of a toad. Paddy in contrast dances across the screen, is nimble and fleet of foot and displays intelligence on her face. During the dialogue moments there are some wonderful physical movements and gestures captured on screen. From the Q&A session (more later) the actors read the dialogue together which was all filmed and given to the animators some additional reference material and added another layer of natural behaviour.

This is a gentle measured production with ever so slightly muted colours. The colour palette matches the tone and pace of the work. It's not a "whooshy" production like some animated features aimed squarely at children. The most vivid colour palette is used on Paddy, pinks and grey but it didn't stick out like the proverbial sore thumb. Gordon goes to work in his white shirt, grey trousers and red tie which fits his current office-based musing lifestyle.

Like Ernest & Celestine Gordon and Paddy are an unlikely pairing. Both compliment each other and give the other something to work for. Gordon the ageing detective toad needs to retire but will do his duty as a policeman for his fellow forest dwellers. He's methodical, experienced and respected. Paddy is young and intelligent and Gordon sees in her someone who can rise to greatness. She quickly becomes his equal and crime-fighting partner, planning operations and connecting clues.

Although based on a set of books for children (The First Case, The Last Case and One More Case) there is something for all ages to be taken away. Perhaps its biggest themes were that of tolerance, fear of the unknown and that "things" are complicated. This last point was illustrated by the law that Gordon keeps, or at least his interpretation of it. In the current world climate it is good to be reminded of these things.

There is a delicious sense of tension and peril throughout. Who stole the nuts? Why must the f-o-x not be mentioned apart from a hushed tone? When the f-o-x is mentioned you can see the characters pull away in an over the top theatrical way and speak in whispers. There was also a real emotional core to the film, especially with the depiction of changes and transitions in life. As an "adult" (sometimes I'm not sure if I am) I appreciated the symbolism but some of the younger members of the audience were in floods of tears.

At a run-time of just over an hour it doesn't outstay its welcome. There is just the right amount of material to fill its 3 acts and in each of them the characters, along with the events, have time to breathe and develop. The rabbit and squirrel families recur throughout and beautifully encapsulate family dynamics and neighbourly tensions. They are also a useful measure of the passing of time and Paddy's progress to acceptance.

After the showing we were lucky to get a Q&A with the director Linda Hambäck. It was chaired by the BFI Southbank. Through this, we found out that the whole film took 3 years to make and cost around $2 million. It was interesting to find out that Linda Hambäck has a background in live-action film and is not as familiar with animation techniques as the team she worked with on this feature.


She was also very open about how the original works were adapted for the big screen. The world and designs were influenced by the source material but it was suggested that they were expanded and embellished from the original "crayon" or pencil works. Three stories were also drawn upon, crashed together and tweaked for our entertainment. When asked if she brought something herself to the story she said that she raised one element to prominence. This subtly reinforced the law that Gordon adheres to and imparts to Paddy, showing how complex everyone really was.

Unashamedly aimed at a younger audience Gordon and Paddy is a wonderful, gentle and nuanced production. It treats its audience with respect and the resulting film works for all audiences. The synth-infused score creates a stage over which the backgrounds and characters perform. It's not the most flashy production but with the gentle pace, flashy would not have worked. Its greatest strengths are the messages and themes it explores, which is beautifully served by the imagery.


IN A NUTSHELL: Soft, gentle full of joy and nuance, Gordon and Paddy treats it audience like its characters, with respect, from the opening to the final frame.