Channel 4’s frollicking animated adaptation of The Tiger Who Came To Tea (Christmas Eve, 7:30pm) was first announced at the beginning of the year. Four months later, Judith Kerr, the author of the beloved children’s picture book that inspired the half-hour film, died. At the time it seemed heartbreaking to readers that Kerr, who died aged 95, would not be able to see her iconic, orange-striped creation brought to life.
Of course, it later turned out that the author was very much involved in the making of the film before her death— even requesting changes to the lyrics of the film’s original song ‘Hey Tiger!’ (sung by Robbie Williams) when she thought they sounded too ‘American’. And for fans of the book, rest assured that the adaptation remains completely faithful to the source material, right down to the dialogue and the playful physicality of our furry friend.
For those who haven’t read Kerr’s book, the film follows a little girl named Sophie (voiced by Clara Ross), who sits down to enjoy tea with her Mummy (Tamsin Greig) when there’s an unexpected knock at the door. Once it’s established that the mystery caller can’t be the grocer’s boy, the Milkman (Paul Whitehouse) or forgetful Daddy (Benedict Cumberbatch), who sometimes forgets his keys, mother and daughter open the front door to reveal a large, sleek Tiger (David Oyelowo) who has, in the film, a deep rumbly voice — and an even rumblier tummy.
The hungry Tiger sits down to enjoy an elegant cup of tea and a bun or two — or plateful. Tiger is insatiable, but Sophie and Mummy gamely offer him the contents of the teapot, saucepans, the fridge, and eventually the store cupboards. When the Tiger has eaten them both out of house and home, he metaphorically tips his hat and makes a speedy departure, while Mummy worries over what she’ll feed the family with when Daddy returns from work.
The film’s animations (illustrated by The Snowman and the Snowdog’s Robin Shaw) strictly adhere to Kerr’s original creations, including the Tiger’s large, colourless eyes and expressive tail; Sophie’s geometric tights; and Daddy’s jaunty taste in trousers. Lupus Films, the same animation house behind previous children’s adaptations like We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, made a deliberate choice to replicate the book’s white backgrounds and sparse details of Sophie’s home. The only scenes inside the house where colour completely fills the screen are during the film’s whimsical, dream-like musical sequence, during which ‘Hey Tiger!’ plays and Sophie and Tiger cavort in front of a spinning backdrop of larger-than-life food tins.
For many children, the most magical part of the book is the ending, when Daddy returns home and decides that the little family should head out into the night and find a cafe. Sophie puts on her coat over her nightie, and together they walk along the dark, streetlit pavements (where a familiar-looking orange-striped cat peeps out), before they enjoy “a lovely supper with sausages and chips and ice cream”. All of the aspects that make that sequence so exciting to a child — the disruption of routine, the nighttime stroll, the treat meal — are lovingly recreated in Channel 4’s film, and even enhanced by Cumberbatch’s childlike glee when Daddy first suggests the outing. Although the film is set on a summery day, the broadcaster’s Christmas Eve offering perfectly captures the nostalgia that many viewers will be looking for during the festive season.
“I think one of the reasons why Judith wanted to adapt this book into a film now… was because she wanted to reach more children around the world,” Lupus Films producer Ruth Fielding said during the film’s screening, “and one sure way of doing that is to make a film, which is likely to reach more children in more countries all around the world than perhaps a book would.”
Whether or not Channel 4’s adaptation will reach more children than the multi-million selling picture book is a question open to debate; but if readers were ever concerned about whether the film would do justice to their childhood favourite, they need not have worried.
The Tiger Who Came To Tea will air on Christmas Eve at 7:30pm on Channel 4
Collect a free* copy of The Tiger Who Came to Tea Party Book with the Radio Times 2019 Christmas issue. *Terms and conditions apply, see radiotimes.com/tigerpartybook for details