A DELIGHTFUL BEAR OF A TALE
Paddington Bear. First appearing in 1958 and written Michael Bond, the world has fallen in love with this classic piece of children’s literature, following the misadventures of a polite and loveable anthropomorphized bear in the human world. The books themselves (more than twenty books written by Bond) have sold over thirty million copies worldwide and translated into thirty different languages. Paddington’s popularity continued beyond the books, adapting the character into several animated television series over the years and now with his first feature film titled Paddington. With the movie pushed back almost a month to avoid bigger films, does this up-to-date movie continue Paddington’s endearing legacy or is it one too many marmalade helpings for this CG animated bear?
In the deepest jungle of Peru, Paddington (Ben Whishaw) lives blissfully happy living with his Uncle Pastuzo and Aunt Lucy. However, after the events of an earthquake, Paddington redirects his life and travels to London, eventually coming across Mr. Brown (Hugh Bonneville) and Mrs. Brown (Sally Hawkins) and their two kids Judy (Madeline Harris) and Jonathan (Samuel Joslin). Welcomed for night’s stay in their household, while Mr. and Mrs. Brown figure out where to place the bear, Paddington slowly becomes a member of the family, charming his way into each of the Browns despite his accidentally ways of adjusting to his new surroundings. Upon hearing of Paddington’s arrival, Millicent (Nicole Kidman), a wicked taxidermist, has caught an interest in this friendly bear, determined to make him a key figurehead in her museum’s collection.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I said above, with more than twenty books written, Paddington has hefty catalogue to pull from when crafting a motion picture. Paul King, who directed and co-scripted Paddington, clearly uses the first three stories in Bond’s 1958 book “A Bear Called Paddington” as a reference, but draws inspiration and other nuances from the books collectively that primarily shapes the movie’s narrative. This film also represents an important task of bringing Bond’s beloved character to the big screen, while also speaking to a new generation of moviegoers (mostly kids). In that regard of transition from page to screen, Paddington is deemed somewhat successful, offering a theatrical story of Paddington Bear that has as a couple of hiccups along the way, but still retains its overall premise, an adorable main character, and a abundance of kid friendly mischief.
In a very pleasing way, King and his team don’t disenchant the character of Paddington, choosing to keep things more in a traditional sense rather than bolstering the picture with obnoxious overtones of pop culture references. Events in the film (whether comical, serious, or sad) are pretty even keeled for a movie in the kids genre, so it won’t disturb youngsters. Speaking of youngsters, Paddington is mostly geared towards them with childish jokes, gags, and Paddington’s numerous accidents that are misconstrued as tomfoolery. Adults might pick up a more mature joke here and there or might even get a little tiresome of watching all the juvenile physical slapstick on-screen, but this particular movie speaks more to a younger audience.
Its story is nothing really original, playing out similar to other narratives that have come before and charts a predictable course towards movie’s ending. From a visual look, Paddington’s world is built well and vibrantly imaginative. While it won’t rival an average CG heavy summer blockbuster, the movie’s world is colorful with bright pallets of color displayed on-screen and perfect fit for a kids flick. Of course, the movie’s message of the importance of home and family are clearly defined, but Paddington also (subtlety) examines issues of xenophobia and tolerance (something that’s always relevant to everyone) as well as WWII reference of children during that time period.
While he doesn’t have the incredible detail CG textures and wisecracking humor of Guardians of the Galaxy’s Rocket, Paddington is expressive through his polite mannerisms and is genuinely loveable from onset to conclusion. A last minute change out for Paddington’s voice was announced with original casted Colin Firth stepping down and replaced with Ben Whishaw. With a soft spoken (childish / boyish) voice that sounds totally sincere, Whishaw, who many might remember from Cloud Atlas and Skyfall, does an impeccably job in bring Paddington’s voice to life.
The rest of the cast (most of which characters from Bond’s books) are comprised of British actors and actress, who are talented and keep the spirit and the energy of the film fast and lighthearted. Besides Paddington himself, Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville gets the most screen time as the reluctant Mr. Brown with Sally Hawkins’s Mrs. Brown coming up behind him. Nicole Kidman does a good job in portraying the wicked Millicent with a sort of cartoonish “Cruella DeVille” vibe. In more supporting roles, Doctor Who’s Peter Capaldi plays Mr. Reginald Curry, the Brown’s ill-spirited neighbor, while Harry Potter alums Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters play the roles of Mr. Samuel Gruber, a owner of a antique shop, and Mrs. Bird, the Brown’s housekeeper. Rounding out the cast is other Harry Potter alumni with Imelda Staunton and Michael Gambon, voicing Paddington’s Aunt Lucy and Uncle Pastuzo respectfully.
Much like the beloved books, the film Paddington has an endearing quality, one that’s both heartwarming and likeable. While it doesn’t have the strength or the measure of a Pixar / DreamWorks film and its undertaking is slightly formulaic (plot and humor wise), its gentle integrity is palpable for a pleasing family film. Adding the book’s signature characters with a sensible British cast and the thematic discovery of finding a new family finds Paddington Bear’s first theatrical film a delightful kid friendly treat for youngster and for those adults who are young at heart.
3.9 Out of 5 (Recommended)