They still make billions of dollars, but it’s impossible not to feel some fatigue with Hollywood’s big movie franchises and reboots. At this point, as many annoyed creatives have said, these movies are paint-by-numbers, with no room for innovation, surprise or standalone aesthetic.
Fortunately, the internet — in its egalitarian anarchy — is bursting at the seams with disruptive concepts that could alter the very history of cinema. For example, if your screenplay is a little too flat or predictable, why not add Paddington Bear as a character? Okay, so you don’t have the rights to use Paddington. Doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea. Here’s all the proof you need:
Jason Chou, a self-taught 3D artist in Covina, California, who aspires to work in the field of visual effects, has been Photoshopping the cuddly fellow into films since early March, and has acquired a cult following in the process. The first 122 days of the project live on the subreddit r/moviescirclejerk, while the rest — up to day 240, as of this writing — are on Twitter, where more than 125,000 people now follow along. But from the start, the scale of this thing was huge:
Why a Photoshop every day? Because practice makes perfect, of course. Why Paddington? Well, the universally acclaimed Paddington 2 is Chou’s “favorite film of all time.” (His Twitter bio states, “And the Oscar goes to Paddington 3,” referring to a sequel currently still in development.) Also, the marmalade-loving bear is cute, charming and utterly out-of-place in almost any milieu besides a twee, storybook London. In that sense, Chou has not only set himself a recurring technical challenge but a philosophical one: If Paddington were, say, part of the cast in George Romero’s zombie classic Dawn of the Dead, would he be a leader among the human survivors, or someone they protect from danger and tote around in a wagon?
Maybe too obvious. How about in Stanley Kubrick’s enigmatic Eyes Wide Shut? That’s where Paddington is sure to surprise you: He’s a high-ranking member of the rich people sex cult.
Wow, dark. I guess once you’ve seen this side of Paddington, you remember he grew up tough in the mountain jungles of Peru. Which also explains why he didn’t hesitate to join the grizzly bear mauling Leo DiCaprio in The Revenant. I don’t think Leo survives this version.
The fandom for Chou’s work — even accomplished filmmakers and industry types have praised it — went critical in September, when he inserted Paddington into the runaway train saved by Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man 2. From that point forward, the images began to average thousands of likes, and the most popular, including one with Paddington as Norman Bates in the famous shower scene from Psycho, have cracked the 100,000 mark. Just as readers and audiences fell in love with Paddington through his canonical adventures, there’s a beautiful consensus on his sudden cross-genre expansion: Every movie is better with this bear.
If there’s something beyond our appreciation of a polite animal with an English accent and Chou’s gracious humor that makes these images popular, it’s nostalgia for a bygone age of the internet when Photoshop gags were the most prized content. This particular series recalls the man who, learning to use the software, gave us “A New Badly Photoshopped Photo of Michael Cera Every Day” in 2015. Another renowned figure of this time was James Fridman, who trolled people asking for Photoshop help by taking their requests literally. The Photoshop Battles on Reddit, meanwhile, were routinely aggregated by websites that could rely on them for tons of clicks.
To those without the means or talent to edit pictures this way, a great Photoshop was like convincing magic, and the best artists of the medium were wizards. These days, alas, we are far more attuned to visual manipulation, and rarely impressed by it. With an air of innocence and joie de vivre befitting Paddington himself, Chou has made it fresh and fun again. Along the way, he’s nodded to seminal compositions and landmark moments for cinema itself, from the haunting silhouettes in Bergman’s The Seventh Seal to the frames of The Horse in Motion, an 1878 photo series that was a forerunner of the motion picture as we know it.
Although he won’t run out of movies anytime soon, we continue to run the risk that someday Chou might forget to Photoshop Paddington into another one. That must never happen. So follow, like, share and remind him at any opportunity what a wonderful gift he’s given us. With a little luck, the biggest Hollywood studios will take notice — and shift their designs accordingly.
Furthermore, hire this dude. He’s ready.