Paddington is written and directed by Paul King and stars Ben Whishaw as the voice of Paddington Bear. The film also stars Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, and Nicole Kidman. The film is based on the stories of the Paddington character created by Michael Bond.
It would have been quite easy for Paul King and producer David Heyman to reduce Michael Bond's beloved Paddington bear to nothing more than an annoying troublemaker and kill any chances that the character would have of being successful in film. But bless their hearts, that is not what happens at all. Paddington brings Michael Bond's kindhearted character to life without losing any of his charm, and it just may be one of the best family-friendly films to come around in the past few years. Children will adore it, and any well-meaning adult should as well. I've seen it twice now myself, and the film remained just as charming the second time as it was the first time around.
I was rather surprised to find out that no serious attempt was made towards giving Paddington a feature film during the 20th century, as he only enjoyed a couple of short-lived TV series. Then in September 2007, Warner Bros. and David Heyman announced that Paddington would at long last be getting a film adaptation, with Colin Firth slated to provide the voice. However, Firth withdrew himself from the film in 2014, stating that the character didn't match his voice: a decision that I agree was the right one. Ben Whishaw was given the voice of Paddington shortly afterwards, and this turned out to be an excellent fit. Whishaw looks about 5-10 years younger than he actually is, still possessing a slightly youthful radiance that can be felt through Paddington's voice. I don't know exactly how old Paddington is supposed to be, but let's just say it was probably better that Paddington was voiced by a younger actor.
The story opens with a black and white film reel of British geographer Montgomery Clyde (Tim Downie), who is on his way to explore the deep jungles of darkest Peru. Clyde comes across a previously unknown species of bear, discovering that the bears are playful, gentle creatures who are intelligent and capable of learning English. The bears also have an insatiable appetite for marmalade. Clyde gives the two bears he befriends the names Lucy and Pastuzo. Upon departure, Clyde gives Pastuzo his hat and tells the bears that they are always welcome in London.
Years later, Lucy and Pastuzo are living peacefully with their nephew, until an earthquake destroys their home. Pastuzo, unable to get to the bears' underground shelter in time, is killed by falling debris, leaving behind only his hat. Lucy then stows her nephew away on a cargo ship bound for London, telling him to go and find a new home, while she will move into the Home for Retired Bears. The bear successfully reaches London, and he finds himself in a train station where he comes across the Brown family. The father of the household, Henry Brown (Hugh Bonneville), does not trust the bear and refuses to take him in. But the kindhearted Mary Brown (Sally Hawkins), is able to convince Mr. Brown to let the bear stay in their home for one night. Mrs. Brown gives the bear the name of Paddington, which is the same name of the train station. The Brown family then take Paddington home, and the next day, they begin to work to find Paddington a permanent home. However, Paddington's arrival in London is discovered by a taxidermist named Millicent (Nicole Kidman), who wants to kidnap the bear, stuff him, and put him on display in a museum.
- The main reason why Paddington works so well is because of how carefully it puts a delicate touch on everything. The production design is colorful and lively, and the movie handles its emotional extremes so well that the happy, heartwarming scenes are never mushy and the more despondent scenes refuse to descend into "attempt to make you cry" territory. The plot reaches a scene where Paddington attempts to find Montgomery Clyde, after a household fire accident causes Paddington to leave the Brown family. As we watch the dejected Brown family try to cope with Paddington's departure, Paddington goes from house to house throughout London, visiting everyone he can find with the last name of Clyde. I especially love this scene because of how it's such a rich blend of bittersweet emotions. One of the most unhappy moments in the film for the Brown family is combined with one of the most hopeful moments for Paddington.
- Paddington himself is wonderfully presented as a naive young bear who finds new ways to get himself in trouble, despite always having the best of intentions. Not for a single second does Paddington come off as annoying, as he is always polite and always wants to be helpful. Think of Paddington like Buddy the Elf or Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman, all who are taken into new environments that are completely unlike back home.
- As charming as Paddington is, the humor doesn't quite match up. There's a running joke in which a flock of pigeons keep pestering Paddington for the sandwich that he has stashed away in his hat, though it isn't as funny as it is the first time (and the first time it happens, I found it to be the funniest moment in the entire film). There's also a reliance on more gross-out style humor, such as Paddington sticking toothbrushes into his ears and proceeding to lick the ear wax that comes out. He then follows this up by drinking a whole thing of mouthwash. None of this is to claim that the movie isn't at all funny. It's just that the humor isn't particularly clever.
With all sincerity, I do mean it when I say that Paddington is one of the best family films that I can recall coming out in the past couple of years. There's just so much delight to be had that adults can easily enjoy the film as much as children can. Everything from the character of Paddington to the production design to the emotional weight is handled so carefully that it's next to near impossible to not find at least a modicum of enjoyment. I can only wish that all children's film were handled with the kind of care that Paddington is given, a film that proudly tells one to, "Always be kind. The world will eventually work itself out."
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