Director: Paul King
Writers: Paul King (written by), Paul King, Hamish McColl (screen story), Michael Bond (character “Paddington Bear”)
Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Nicole Kidman, Madeleine Harris, Samuel Joslin, Ben Whishaw (Paddington’s voice)
Release Date: November 23, 2014 (UK), January 16, 2015 (US)
Runtime: 1 hr. 35 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG
It’s always a risk when taking a beloved childhood story or character and trying to translate it to the big screen. It takes a deft hand, a sensitivity to the source material, and an understanding of the ongoing relationships that are developed between children and their favorites. In this case, it looks as though writer/director Paul King, along with co-writer Hamish McColl, have managed to maintain their childhood connection to Michael Bond’s little bear from darkest Peru, Paddington, giving children who are current fans, and parents with fond memories, something to enjoy together. Click through for my full review.
The story begins before Paddington is born, telling us how his Aunt Lucy and Uncle Pastuzo learned to speak English, became interested in traveling to London, received the signature red hat, and – most importantly – developed their unhealthy love of marmalade, all of which they pass down to their nephew. This is new territory, a background that is only ever alluded to in the books. While there is a touch of the maudlin involving Paddington’s immediate impetus for heading to London, it isn’t played in too sentimental a way. There is a death (fairly child-safe, as it doesn’t happen directly on-screen), but it isn’t due to the sorts of things you might expect if the director had an agenda (no massive deforestation or human incursions, for example). Instead, the humans-gone-bad theme doesn’t begin until we get to London town.
There, Paddington does not find the warm welcome he’s been brought up to expect, as rush-hour Londoners go rushing past him, jostling both bear and baggage in their hurry to get where they’re going. At the end of a long night, a rather forlorn Paddington is spotted by the Brown family as they return late from a journey. Inevitably, and against Mr. Brown’s better judgement, they decide to bring Paddington home, naming him in the process.
The main narrative involves a young taxidermist working at the Natural History Museum (played by an icy Nicole Kidman) who covets Paddington to complete her collection, for reasons I shall not reveal here but which are integral to the plot. Paddington gets into a series of misadventures, causing Mr. Brown conniptions while amusing and winning over the rest of the family (and even, to be fair, Mr. Brown). Supporting characters are inhabited by a cadre of excellent actors, such as Jim Broadbent as Mr. Gruber, Matt Lucas (late of Little Britain) as a London cabbie, Julie Walters (Mrs. Weasley from the Harry Potter films) as Mrs. Bird, and Peter Capaldi (the newest Dr. Who) as the grumpy neighbor, Mr. Curry. Capaldi is centered in one of the more humorous side-stories, as he mistakes Kidman’s interest in Paddington for romantic interest in Curry himself, leading to predictably uncomfortable moments for the nosy neighbor.
Paddington does deal with some adult themes (such as the aforementioned romance, the taxidermist’s potentially bloody interest in Paddington, and a drinking competition between two adult characters), but nothing here should keep little Judy or Jonathon at home. It’s equally entertaining for adults, and some of the directorial conceits (such as the Brown townhouse opening up like the pages of a book on a couple of occasions, wherein we can see them all at their various pursuits) add a magical touch to an already magical story. Whishaw’s voicing of the lovable but rather naive bear is spot on – something we can indirectly thank Colin Firth for who, in a peculiarly British move, realized partway through recording that his own voice just wasn’t right for Paddington, and graciously removed himself from the role. Yet another reason to love Firth, as far as I’m concerned.
For fans of the books, there are many connections here: of course, the Brown family and the main supporting characters (Gruber, Curry, Mrs. Bird), but also some of the shenanigans, especially the bathroom sequence already seen by many in the movie’s trailer. Much more is created out of whole cloth for the movie, but is invariably within the spirit of Paddington’s long history and scores of short stories. The film’s greatest success comes in the form of an examination of what makes family. Themes of loyalty and sacrifice are dealt with in a thoughtful manner, and none of the characters feels anything but authentic, even when they are played over-the-top (especially in Capaldi’s case, which is the perfect way to play Mr. Curry in my opinion). You can tell that the cast really enjoyed making this film, and while Kidman comes close to chewing the scenery a few times, it’s all in service of playing a moustache-twirlingly bad baddie. Overall, I really enjoyed this movie, and heartily recommend it to fans both young and old.
Steve’s Grade: A-
A fun-filled children’s book brought to life by a cast of accomplished actors and some bright newcomers (Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin), this is a film that the whole family can enjoy. Just remember to stock up on the marmalade first!