Posted: January 7, 2015 in Film reviews

Directed by Paul King. Starring Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Nicole Kidman and Ben Whishaw.

In deepest darkest Peru there lives a group of bears unlike any others, bears that are as intelligent as people. When an explorer discovers these bears he teaches them English and tells them all about England, when he leaves he suggests that they should one day visit London.

Many years later Lucy and Pastuzo, the bears the explorer met, live an idyllic, marmalade fuelled life with their young nephew, until disaster strikes and the young bear finds he has to venture to London in search of a new life. The London of 2014 is not the polite welcoming place it perhaps once was however, and finding a new home isn’t as easy as he imagined, until that is the Brown family take pity on him and offer to take him in for the night, even though Mr Brown (Bonneville) is against the idea. Because they can’t pronounce his bear name Mrs Brown decides to name him after the station where they found him, Paddington.

Although Mr Brown is adamant that Paddington can’t live with them permanently, Paddington soon becomes a member of the family, but as Paddington and the Browns search for either the explorer or one of his decedents to take care of Paddington, someone else has their eye on the little bear in the duffel coat, an evil taxidermist who wants Paddington to be the latest addition to the Natural History Museum!

Every so often a well-loved character is taken down from the nostalgic shelf, dusted down and ‘reimagined’. It’s traditional when this happens, for those involved in the new version to talk about how reverently they will treat the character, how they’re just making them more relevant for modern times, but how much care they’ve taken not to spoil what we loved about that character in the first place.

With a few exceptions, this is usually nothing more than spin and blather before a soulless mess is released at the cinema.

I’m extremely happy to report then that Paddington is one of the exceptions. It’s a truly charming little film, and one you can tell great care, love and attention has been lavished on. The script, the effects, the direction and the casting are all spot on, leaving a film it’s hard to find fault with.

The film stands or falls based on the titular character first and foremost, and the CGI is impressive, to the point where very early on you forget that Paddington’s a collection of pixels, because he’s just Paddington. However cute and expressive the digital creation is, this would be nothing without a great voice behind it, and Ben Whishaw does a wonderful job. Much as I admire Colin Firth you can see how he wouldn’t have been right for the role, he’d bring too much experience to the role, whereas with Whishaw we get a voice that is at once childlike, yet also curiously mature. We’ve all met children who seem older than their years, and that description suits Paddington to a tee, and despite the scrapes he gets into he’s actually quite a sensible little fellow, and there’s a lovableness to his oddly old fashioned politeness.

He’s helped by having good actors to bounce off. Bonneville is a great straight man for the little bear, and in particular the scene where Mr Brown and Paddington infiltrate the Geographer’s Society is a hoot, especially the debrief afterwards when Paddington drops Mr Brown right in it. Bonneville convinces as a loving, if rather stuffy father who’s forgotten how much fun he used to be. Sally Hawkins is good as the more bohemian Mrs Brown and despite their differences they make for a believable couple. The kids are good too, not remotely annoying and they too have great chemistry with the bear.

Films need a villain though, and Nicole Kidman plays the evil Millicent Clyde with so much relish you imagine she must have had a ball during filming. Throw in the ever reliable Julie Walters as Mrs Bird and Peter Capaldi as the grumpy neighbour and it’s a flawless cast.

The direction is straightforward when it needs to be, yet also quirky and inventive when the situation requires it, be it a scene using a dollhouse to show how the different family members relate to Paddington or the steampunk workings of the Geographer’s Institute. King keeps things pacey and on more than one occasion I was on the edge of my seat.

The film also has a message, Paddington is, after all, an immigrant who’s come to London in search of a better life, and much is made of the little label round his neck, harking back to English children evacuated during World War 2, and whilst the film doesn’t delve into shades of grey it has more to say than the average kids’ film, a message of tolerance for those bears less fortunate than ourselves.

If I was to be picky the Browns are that kind of middle class twee family that one suspects only really exists in films, and given the overarching message about integration London perhaps could have been shown to be more diverse. Also it’s a lean film, but in essence this is family fare, and it’s difficult to know what a longer run time could possibly bring to the table, and there’s something to be said for a film that doesn’t outstay its welcome and leaves you wanting more.

I am being very picky though because I really liked this. It’s sweet, charming, funny, exciting, plus how can you not love a film that throws in jokes inspired by Indiana Jones and Mission Impossible, and which dispenses with Chekhov’s gun (Google it!) in favour of Chekhov’s marmalade sandwich!

Highly recommended, this is a film to take a long hard stare at.

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