I’m not sure how it happened but I have never read a Paddington book. So, unlike many people who already know and love the character, I came to this film with only that awful movie trailer as my point of reference. (Note to studio: Your trailer really is bad, and I’m not alone in that opinion.)
For those who don’t know the story, Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw, who also played Q in SKYFALL) is a unique, marmalade-loving, bear cub who leaves the jungles of “darkest Peru” for the bright lights of London. How he is able to speak and why he has a British accent, I’ll leave for you to see the film (or read the books, I suppose). Suffice to say, I bought into the premise from the opening scene. When his home is destroyed, his aunt sends him across the Atlantic to London where he arrives at Paddington Station with just his old hat, battered suitcase and a paper ID tag that says “Please look after this bear. Thank you.” You wouldn’t be wrong to think that this image is reminiscent of an earlier time in British history. In 1938 – 39, 669 Jewish children from central and eastern Europe arrived at Liverpool Station, refugees from Nazi oppression, in an operation that is now known as the Kindertransport. This is alluded to later on in the film, and I’m getting ahead of myself.
Looking very lost and alone, he is noticed by Mrs. Brown (Sally Hawkins), who is returning home from a trip with her husband and two kids. She takes pity on the young bear and convinces a very reluctant and suspicious Mr. Brown (Hugh Bonneville) to take him home at least for the night. After Paddington wreaks havoc on the Brown’s bathroom (the toothbrush scene is CGI genius), Mr. Brown insists that they find a permanent home for Paddington first thing in the morning.
The day next the family goes about their business while Mrs. Brown and Paddington set out to find the British geographer, Montgomery Clyde, who befriended his aunt and uncle many years before in Peru. Once again, the bear gets himself mixed up in a series of events but this time he emerges as a media darling. Because of that, he comes to attention of Millicent (Nicole Kidman), a sinister taxidermist who will stop at nothing to add the little bear to her stuffed menagerie. For the rest of the film, Paddington and the Browns search high and low throughout London for Clyde while Millicent conspires with the Browns’ grouchy neighbour, Mr. Curry (Peter Capaldi), to get the bear on her operating table. There are some wonderful scenes outside Buckingham Palace and at the Geographer’s Guild that will make you forget that Paddington is really an animated character.
There is so much to love about this film. To start, PADDINGTON isn’t just for kids. Like TV’s The Simpsons, The Flintstones and Bugs Bunny, it has many levels. There are jokes that only adults will get while at the same time the story is so simple and sweet that even the youngest kids will laugh and cheer along.
The CGI is filled with rich detail, from the reflection of the kitchen seen in a drop of water to the intricate network of pneumatic tubes at the Geographer’s Guild. I predict some stiff competition at this year’s Oscars® between this film, BIG HERO 6 and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY in the animation category. The sound effects and the soundtrack are equally brilliant, from the clicking of Paddington’s teeth coming together as he eats breakfast to the riff on Lalo Schifrin’s MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE theme. The camera angles are creative and the screenplay is wonderfully thoughtful too. Brief musical interludes from a group of elderly street musicians playing calypso music weave in and out through the film, which director Paul King has said hark back to time when immigrants from the West Indies were settling in Notting Hill – the area where the Browns live in the Paddington stories. This really is a lesson about immigrants and tolerance, after all, but don’t tell the kids.
High praise, too, needs to go to the actors. Who knew that Hugh Bonneville had such comic timing? Look for him to score an Oscar® nod. Nicole Kidman is excellent too, as she vamps it up in her dominatrix platinum blonde wig and leopard skin stilettos. And Jim Broadbent, though he only has a small part as curio shop owner Mr. Gruber, he makes the most of his screen time as well.
PADDINGTON is destined to become a holiday classic. It is a laugh-out-loud, fun film that you can watch it over and over again. The last time I applauded during an animated film was when I saw BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.
Don’t let the silly trailer turn you off this film. PADDINGTON is grr-eat!
Listen to the review online on Radio 4. (Click on the link. Select Part 2 and slide the time bar over to 28:50.)
I’ve included a clip from the film rather than the trailer.