Genre: Comedy, Family
Directed by: Paul King
Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Nicole Kidman
Parental purists of Michael Bond’s Peruvian bear would not be blamed for approaching director Paul King’s live-action reboot with trepidation. After all, the beloved bears of British literature haven’t had the best luck on the big-screen. Sure there’s some charm to be found in Disney’s adventures of Winnie the Pooh, but the films have never managed to match the magic of A. A. Milne’s enchanted prose.
Any such worries however, are likely to be quashed within the first few minutes of Paddington. Like golden-brown toast served with lashings of rich, melting butter, King’s loyal adaptation of Bond’s stories is warm, comforting, and a pleasure for young and old alike.
The script, jointly written by King and Hamish McColl, is a masterful, multi-layered delight. On the surface it tells the story of Paddington (Ben Whishaw), who is sent to live in England by his Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) and winds up being taken in by Mr. & Mrs. Brown (Huge Bonneville & Sally Hawkins). Here Paddington tries to forge a new life for himself in London. However, a local museum taxidermist (Nicole Kidman) has other, more sinister plans.
Even on this most basic level, Paddington is an utter joy to experience. The stunning visuals will hold the youngsters spellbound. With the help of Ben Whishaw’s warm-hearted and enthusiastic vocal tones, the titular traveller is brilliantly brought to life. The attention to detail of his anthropomorphized animation is awe-inspiring, his appearance so soft and cuddly you want to reach through the screen and hug him. And behind Paddington, an incandescent canvas of colours gloriously holds your gaze. Despite the persistent rain, London has arguably never looked so beautiful.
Yet the character of the Capital remains effectively cold. Here King and McColl dexterously draw on the themes of Bond’s books. The wartime evacuee’s analogy is skilfully acknowledged early on, and then used to lay the foundations for something far more relatable to a contemporary audience of all ages. For the young, it shows the tough trails of trying to fit in with those around you, be they your family, friends, or people you’ve just met and are desperate to impress. For those who are older, it shows the loneliness and hostility of life in a new city. The early scenes of the eponymous bear trying to catch the eye of a public whose unified attention is aimed squarely at the floor is quietly heartbreaking to experience, especially when you consider just how close to reality it is.
Please do not for think for one second that Paddington is a distressing discourse on modern society though, it is in fact one of the most delightful cinematic experiences of the year, and it’s here just in time for Christmas. It’s an uproariously funny adventure, laden with witty one-liners, silly visual treats and the greatest Lionel Richie music cue to perhaps ever be committed to cinema. And the performances are uniformly first rate, with Nicole Kidman practically stealing the show as the wickedly sinister taxidermist out to stop and literally stuff Paddington so he can form the centrepiece of her collection.
It never quite manages to achieve the same unfathomable levels of universal charm that are reserved for the highest tier of Pixar offerings such as Up and Toy Story, but there’s absolutely no chance of your enjoyment being sullied because of that. Towards the end of the film Hugh Bonneville’s Mr. Brown gives a great speech about how happy he is now that Paddington has entered his life, and the sentiments of that moment will no doubt ring true in the hearts of the uninitiated and of those reacquainting themselves with this marmalade loving hero. True to the label hung around Paddington’s neck, Paul King has taken jolly good care of this bear.