From the beloved novels by Michael Bond, Paddington tells the story of the misadventures of a young bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw) who travels to London in search of a home after his idyllic Peruvian forest homestead is destroyed in an earthquake. Finding himself lost and alone, he begins to realize that city life is not all he had imagined, until he meets the kindly Brown family who take heed of the label around his neck – “Please look after this bear. Thank you.” – and offer him a temporary haven.
This is a fun, clever film and it is exceptionally well made. But, I take a look at the impressive pedigree working on it and wonder why I am surprised. Writer/director Paul King is the man behind Bunny and the Bull and The Mighty Boosh, which explains why Paddington is so funny. King worked with editor Mark Everson on the aforementioned projects, and this is a sleek, polished cut. Master DP Erik Wilson (The Double, 20, 000 Days on Earth and The Imposter) shoots the film beautifully, while the delightfully rewarding intricacies of the film’s design (for example, the Brown house reduced to a dollhouse model and a sequence where Paddington appears to walk through a projected image into a memory) and CGI/animatronic effects are seamlessly woven into the film’s fabric.
The casting of the Brown family is perfect, and though Paddington is the heart of this film, they are still well-developed characters with unique traits that play a role throughout the film. Bonneville is particularly versatile as a pompous, stubborn upper class Brit who brings his professional anxieties home, but has the capacity to surprise and soften when the situation warrants it. Sally Hawkins, who plays an animator with a sense of adventure, is an asset to any film due to her bubbly presence, while the children are energetic and realistically won over by their new house guest, despite Judy being initially mortified by her mother’s decision.
Due to his youth, Ben Whishaw is a rather more suitable choice than Colin Firth (who left the film at some point) to voice the Marmalade-lovin bear. He creates such a charming and endearing individual that transcends the physical attributes that you can’t help but be swept up in his escapades. Nicole Kidman relishes an icy villainous role as a pristinely-attired taxidermist obsessed with adding Paddington to her stuffed specimens, while new Dr Who Peter Capaldi, who plays a nosy neighbour infatuated with Kidman’s character, is a notable weak spot.
There are plenty of fish out of water gags involving the accident-prone Peruvian, with bathrooms and kitchens utilised best, and King has ensured that all of Paddington’s traits (his hat, coat and marmalade habit) are featured intelligently. There is a chase sequence through the streets of London and a showdown in the museum that stretches Paddington’s mischief outside of the Brown household, while he and Mr Brown’s infiltration of an elaborately archived Geographical Society is an amusing and brilliantly designed set piece. Keep an eye out for not one but two nods to the Mission Impossible franchise, which are very amusing.
Paddington comes in with some baggage, namely a less than appetising trailer and no release yet in the US, but what is clear almost immediately is that this is a thoughtful and inventive effort to bring Bond’s beloved invention to the screen. UK critics and audiences have responded favourably, and honestly this is perhaps the family film of 2014. With a release slot a few weeks before the coveted Boxing Day one, here’s hoping families give Paddington a go before the expected holiday favourite, Big Hero 6 snaps up the screening spots.
Paddington is a lovely film, bursting with subtle wit, cutesy charm and stunning technical work. It is a film that stresses acceptance and how everyone deserves a home and a family, and tells a heartwarming story of a youngster searching for an answer for who he is and the family brought together by his courage and perseverance. While the experience of this film is like a big warm hug, there are so many details, sly gags and character moments to reward long on reflection. Aside from a few stressful situations, there isn’t much to worry about, content-wise. It is perfect for kids of ages 8 and up, and their parents. Do not dismiss it.
By Andrew Buckle
Director: Paul King
Writer(s): Paul King, Hamish McColl (screenplay)
Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Peter Capaldi, Nicole Kidman, Ben Whishaw (voice)
Runtime: 95 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: December 11 2014; New Zealand: December 18 2014; USA: January 16 2014