Promising start descends into film that feels head-scratchingly inappropriate given wholesomeness of preschool TV series
With a roiling sea of preschoolers primed for entertainment, the Postman Pat movie ought to have brought down the house. But perhaps the army of killer robots wasn't the way to go.
It seems strange to have to point this out, but Pat and his village chums have secured the adoration of generations of young children by being utterly wholesome, and benign to the point of inanity.
The murderous bionic cat shooting lasers out of its eyes proved a turning point: whimpers turned to wails and more than one family group shuffled towards the exit.
It was a shame, because it all started so promisingly. A fabulously agile travelling shot following a train across the rural landscape, skimming the treetops and skipping through sheep-herds, opened proceedings: it seemed to go on forever before homing in on Pat's front-door letterbox.
It was great stuff, suggesting Postman Pat was aiming to be the Touch of Evil of kiddie animation.
It's inevitable, however, that the heft of a feature film is more demanding, narratively speaking, than the usual TV episode, which might involve Pat getting stuck in a snowdrift or losing Mrs Goggins's umbrella.
Again, almost inevitably, a Britain's Got Talent-style talent show – here called You're the One, and featuring a grumpy, putdown-oriented host called Simon Cowbell – looms large.
Having been denied his yearly bonus by a sinister corporate new broom called Carbuncle (Peter Woodward), Pat, voiced efficiently enough by a reined-in Stephen Mangan, enters the show to win a holiday to Italy, to make good on a promise to his wife.
Carbuncle takes advantage of Pat's newfound celebrity to replace him with a robot – part of a convoluted plan to take over the world. (It didn't seem a particularly viable plan to me, but presumably the tinies take this sort of thing on trust.)
It's at this point things start to get a little weird. Perhaps fearing that the modern tot can't be doing without a goodly dose of threat and peril, the fake Pat is pretty creepy: fixed toothy grin, glowing red eyes, hammering goosestep gait.
I suspect the filmmakers thought this was a smart, down-with-the-kids move; if so, I can't help but feel it's a misjudgment, a serious overestimation of the development of the four-year-old's irony circuit.
And later on, when Carbuncle unleashes his army of killer Pats, and robot Jess, it all feels head-scratchingly inappropriate.
No doubt the desire not to bore the hell out of older kids, much less their parents, played a part; more likely, however, is that the filmmakers didn't want to have something too lame on their CV.
I'd never want to stand in the way of artists pushing things, but messing with Postman Pat is probably a step too far.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010