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Just in time for the Passover vacation from school, the movie “Paddington 2” will reach Israeli theaters this weekend. The film is the sequel to the big 2015 hit and features the famous bear that stars in Michael Bond’s children’s books.
Delaying distribution until the Spring vacation, after the movie hit theaters in Britain as early as last November, means banking on Israeli parents’ need to entertain children over the break. In Israel, however, it also means complying with Passover’s rules, including the ban on bread.
Paddington Bear’s famous marmalade sandwich has disappeared from his paws in some of the posters and billboards advertising the film across Israel, replaced with a matza snack. This is not the first time that Paddington’s most important commercial symbol gets censored in ad campaigns: it happened in Israel before, upon release of the first episode.
But this time the situation is even stranger: slapping together two pieces of matza with some orange marmalade was not enough, as the new “kosher” snack needs to be neatly shaped into the number “2” of the new episode.
Last year, a similar decision to remove Smurfette from the posters advertising the movie “Smurfs: The Lost Village,” in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak caused uproar from seculars in Israel.
The same way women are excluded from the public domain there, female Smurfs were erased too. The same goes for Paddington Bear. Some would call it “religious coercion” and “religionization”, some would dismiss the changes with a laugh and a shoulder shrug, calling them “adaptation to the land”.
The ban on the marmalade bread does not apply to all posters, but it largely depends on the religious outlook of the area.
Along the Ayalon Highway, in secular-leaning Tel Aviv, the bread is still visible - whereas has become matza in areas it could otherwise raise concerns. Similarly, some newspapers carry the original version of the sandwich, while others publish the modified version of the ad.
What Paddington is going through in the Holy Land may show new patterns of localization of universal brands, specifically in relation to children’s movies.
The Disney-Pixar studios are known for the attention they pay to how their films are received and viewed in countries not the United States. Many of their works are edited with minor changes to adapt them to the local culture.
In the movie “Inside Out,” for instance, the pieces of broccoli that Riley refuses to eat as an infant were replaced with green peppers in the version released in Japan.
In “Zootropolis” (as “Zootopia” was called in Europe, the Middle East and part of Africa) the animated animals who present the news were replaced in different countries based on animal preferences there.
In the film “Planes,” one of the characters is completely changed based on the country of release. “The Avengers”, which is produced by Disney in cooperation with Marvel Comics, is heavily adapted to its destinations. In the film “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” the hero’s list of missions varies significantly based on country of release.
So why should we make a big deal out of a matza, one coul`d ask? The marmalade sandwich is part of Paddington’s identity, just like his familiar red hat and blue coat. It is not a detail in the background, which is why it appears in all posters and in all main adds.
The marmalade sandwich, moreover, is a key plot device in the movie. It’s hard to believe it could be replaced in all the scenes where it appears with the new matza snack.
Indeed, no one expects the pork-filled noodle dishes in the animated films of Hayao Miyazaki to be turned into chicken soups or matza balls in honor of the holiday.
Besides, replacing a bread sandwich with the matza on the posters could also backfire in terms of appeasing the religious, if the bread snack then appears in the film. It would be like a restaurant which advertises Passover dishes without putting them on the menu. Or was the matza sandwich only meant to protect religious sensitivities in public areas, thus only limited to the ad?
“Paddington 2” is a wonderful film which can be of interest to people of all ages, religions and nationalities. After all, the movie tells the story of a Peruvian bear who migrates to London and has to adapt to the customs and practices of his new home there.
Reviews in Israel are all flattering. Some highlight the repetition of features from the first movie, others point to fresh additions in the new. The jail sequence is probably the best of all children movies since “Toy Story 3,” and Hugh Grant provides one of the greatest performances in his career.
Whether you go see the film during Passover or after the holiday, in the British english of the original version or in Hebrew, it will be interesting to see what snacks are on offer at the theaters. Will there be anything for those strict about keeping kosher for Passover?