2015, PG, 95 min. Directed by Paul King. Starring Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Nicole Kidman, Ben Whishaw, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton, Peter Capaldi, Samuel Joslin, Madeleine Harris.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 16, 2015
Bears and marmalade have gone together like Pooh and honey even since 1958, the year that UK author Michael Bond and illustrator Peggy Fortnum published their children’s book A Bear Called Paddington. Featuring the misadventures of a young bear from “darkest Peru” who finds himself living in London through no fault of his own, the Paddington books are a specimen of that rarest of VYA (Very Young Adult) touchstones, the children’s classic. Paddington fans of all ages, and I include myself among their ranks, awaited the arrival of Paddington on the big screen with no little online worrying. Would the filmmakers deliver a CGI calamity with the potential to terrify children into thinking they’d just experienced some joy-sapping, too-realistic Grizzly Man: The-Bear? (Worse has happened: See The Polar Express for details.)
It’s with great satisfaction that I can report that Paddington is a marvelously charming and near-perfect blend of Bond’s comically ursine character and some seriously fine technical wizardry. Paddington is the young person’s movie to beat in 2015. It’s contemporary in tone but steadfastly true to its source material, and – good news, mom and dad! – it’s hugely entertaining, with a less-than-subtle nod to current sociopolitical views on everything from immigration policy and xenophobia to what, exactly, it means to be family.
Co-screenwriters Paul King and Hamish McColl front-load the story with a veritable cornucopia of droll puns and wild comedic antics that almost always function as a witty, vital part of the narrative, instead of stopping things dead-bang. (Stateside, King is probably best known for directing the cult-y comedy series The Mighty Boosh, and it shows.) Voiced very well indeed by Ben Whishaw, Paddington is forced from his natural habitat in the Peruvian rainforest in the wake of an earthquake. In a nod to both Bond’s books and the reality of London’s children displaced by the German Blitz during World War II, Paddington’s Aunt Lucy (Staunton) hangs a tag around his neck with the inscription: “Please look after this bear.” Once he’s in modern London, however, the presumed hospitality of the wee bear’s new locale is in doubt until the wee bear is taken in by the Brown family. With the help of Bonneville’s hover-parent dad, Hawkins’ idealistic mom, and the Brown children (The Impossible’s Samuel Joslin chief among them), Paddington searches for “the English explorer” whom he met years before, while also being stalked by Kidman’s taxidermist villainess.
Director King and his art department have cannily created a magical, new storybook home for Paddington. If you drool over Wes Anderson’s intricate, emotionally resonant set designs, you’re likely going to love what the Browns’ home looks like. There are so many terrific things going on in the film – rapid-fire wordplay, split-second visual gags, and some veddy, veddy British punning – that, frankly, Paddington deserves more than one viewing. Huzzah Paddington, and marmalade forever!