CINEMA RELEASE: PADDINGTON
Release date: 11th December 2014
Director: Paul King
Cast: Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Nicole Kidman, Jim Broadbent, Ben Whishaw
Classification: G (General)
Review by Peter Gray
Given the shaky background to ‘Paddington’, the first feature film about the iconic British bear, one would be forgiven for approaching the film with a rather cynical outlook. Gestating for over half a decade, the film’s initial trailer did little to ease the public’s perception as it appeared firmly aimed at children (almost insultingly so) and then, only months before it was to debut in cinemas, Colin Firth announced he would no longer participate in the feature and withdrew himself from voicing the titular bear. None of this was placing confidence in a production that seemed destined to fail, and this was not how the loveable bear was to debut on the silver screen after years of housing himself in literature, TV and plush toy lines.
So, naturally, it comes as both a welcome surprise and absolute shock that not only is ‘Paddington’ far from the trainwreck it could’ve been, it’s a particularly joyous feature that should delight long-time fans and satisfy the family viewing demographic; heck, even if you fall into neither of those categories (like myself) you could potentially find something to enjoy in this utterly charming outing. It all starts in Darkest Peru where an explorer, Montgomery Clyde (Tim Downie), stumbles ac ross a duo of bears who, as that old saying goes, appear smarter than your average bear – they have a curious taste for marmalade and, rather uniquely, they can talk. Naming them Lucy (Imelda Staunton) and Pastuzo (Michael Gambon), Clyde assures them should they ever venture to London, they will always be welcome to stay. As the years pass and Lucy and Pastuzo find themselves guardians to young Paddington (voiced to innocent perfection by Ben Whishaw), the offer from Clyde strikes fresh in Lucy’s mind as an earthquake strikes their home and she urges young Paddington to stow away and seek refuge in London.
After ingesting his share of marmalade, he arrives at his name-sake train station where the Brown family take pity on the lonesome cub and set him up for a night’s stay at their home before assuring him they will seek suitable accommodation in the morning. The family – risk-assessor father Henry (Hugh Bonneville), optimistic artist mother Mary (Sally Hawkins), their children Judy (Madeleine Harris) and Jonathan (Samuel Joslin), and live-in housekeeper Mrs Bird (Julie Walters) – expectedly fall fond of Paddington, despite his numerous domestic shake-ups, and throw their hearts behind him to help find the seemingly untraceable Clyde. As the investigations take place for Paddington to find a home, crazed taxidermist Millicent (Nicole Kidman) is on the prowl also, eager to snatch the brown bear for her own demented purpose.
Structurally, there’s nothing new about how ‘Paddington’ presents its story as the fish-out-of-water-misfit-who-changes-the-hearts-and-minds-of-those-that-eventually-home-him is a tale that’s both tried and true. But, somehow, writer/director Paul King has crafted a sense of magic around the familiarity of it all, peppering the script with clever sight gags and smooth references to the book series such as Paddington’s trademark “hard stare” (used to shame people into better behaviour). The film also benefits from an aesthetic point-of-view, with a wall mural acting as a sort-of reflection on the current mood of the household to a dollhouse set-up revealing the many levels of the Brown household which elevates this gorgeous film to something far more sumptuous than it has any right to be.
As pleasant as it is to look at, ‘Paddington’ would really be nothing if it wasn’t for its superb cast, and the film indeed benefits from its unlikely choices. Bonneville, best known for his work on the television series ‘Downton Abbey’, feels right at home as the father-knows-best figure just as much as he does when he has to throw on an apron and make-up for an undercover sequence that provides some of the film’s biggest laughs. Hawkins, fresh off her Academy Award nominated role in ‘Blue Jasmine’, is beyond enchanting as the tender heart of the Brown household, and also Paddington’s biggest champion, whilst Kidman, whose 2014 has been less-than-stellar thanks to the woeful biopic ‘Grace of Monaco’ and tepid thriller ‘Before I Go To Sleep’, appears to be having more fun than ever as the gleefully unhinged Millicent, once again reminding us that she can be quite the competent comedic performer. Whishaw though is ultimately where the film finds its heart as his sweet, perfectly polite vocals complement Paddington to the point where no one else could ever seem to do the bear justice.
I am beyond surprised at how much I enjoyed, dare I say adored, ‘Paddington’ and I feel that fans of the character will be satisfied alongside those that are either just familiar with the name, or the few that will get dragged along to see yet another family film. This is a giant bear hug of a movie that will leave you feeling, as clichéd as this will sound, all warm and fuzzy inside.
My rating: 4/5