Movie Review: Paddington

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A young talking bear from Darkest Peru moves to London to find a new home.

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Paul King, 2014

It’s been forty years since a British explorer traveled to Peru and encountered a pair of highly intelligent bears. Now they’re raising a young bear soon to be known as Paddington (Ben Whishaw), who enjoys racing around the jungle and eating marmalade sandwiches. When their home is destroyed in a disaster, Paddington ships off to London, where the family of bears was assured a warm welcome by the explorer all those years ago. When he gets to London he finds he has a harder time acclimatising than he thought – and though the kindhearted Mrs. Brown (Sally Hawkins) eventually takes a liking to him and brings him home for the night, cautious Mr. Brown (Hugh Bonneville) is less enthusiastic, particularly when the accident-prone Paddington floods the bathroom. The bear also catches the attention of taxidermist Millicent (Nicole Kidman), who has her own plans in mind for the unusual specimen.

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This movie, based on the children’s books by Michael Bond, is aggressively quirky. While the concept of a marmalade-loving, talking bear might be a bit unusual, it’s accepted universally as only being slightly odd in the world of this film. It’s also downright sensible compared to some elements of this movie. We have a high-heeled ninja-like murderous taxidermist (there’s a scene in which I’m fairly sure Nicole Kidman casually kills a taxi driver), a steampunk Geographer’s Guild, and a chase scene in which someone refers to Paddington as “a tiny police bear” for starters. The whimsical nature of the film sometimes works in its favour, particularly stylistically; the scenes where the front of the Browns’ home opens out like a dollhouse are particularly lovely. There are some really nifty scene changes and effective visual metaphors running through the film as well. However, as when our introductory scene for the villain involves her explicitly laying out her evil plan with no previous indication that she existed, there are some moments that are downright jarring. However, for all that it is full of whimsy, the film is mostly played very safe and gentle. The messages about home and acceptance are far from groundbreaking, and there’s nothing challenging about the film at all. It seems like they were more invested in making it cute than making it thoughtful.

For all that she’s on fine, bizarrely competent ice queen form in this film (the ninja stunts she manages in high heels are quite impressive), there’s never the level of threat from Nicole Kidman that you know she can produce. The rest of the cast hold up nicely, however. Julie Walters is on particularly fine form as the formidable Mrs. Bird, an “elderly relative” of the Browns with whom they live. The kids are fine, particularly Madeleine Harris as older daughter Judy. Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville are lovely, with Bonneville’s take on the highly strung, much put-upon “dad from Beethoven” archetype (if there’s a better name for this, let me know) coming across as properly delightful. His drag scene is a lot of fun, and it’s great to watch him go from uptight to cutting loose. Ben Whishaw’s Paddington voice veers from very youthful to old soul, but he’s a likeable little hero. ┬áHe’s well animated, without too many unreal moments, and the cast interacts with him ably. Ultimately this is a fun little film for kids – I doubt it’s going to become a classic, but it moves along well, does its job, and it’s got enough little oddities to keep adults engaged too.

Paddington on IMDb

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