DIRECTOR: Paul King
CAST: Hugh Bonnieville, Sally Hawkins, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, Nicole Kidman, Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
RATING: 4 stars (out of 5)
THIS DEPICTION of the marmalade-loving bear from Peru who finds a home and family in London is much darker than I remember from my childhood library forays.
It is still family-friendly, but pretty grim in the beginning, with the threat of Paddington being sent to a “facility” looming over him for much of the film. It plays out like a modern refugee-seeking-asylum story and nicely brings home the idea of being kind to strangers.
Not that it is all doom and gloom at all – for the most part this is a comical adventure, featuring a talking bear who befriends the Brown family to their benefit.
The film starts in Peru, where Paddington’s aunt (voiced by Imelda Staunton) and uncle (voiced Michael Gambon) are discovered by an explorer who teaches them about London being a place where they will be welcome.
So, eventually when his home is destroyed Paddington’s aunt sends him to the big city with a tag around his neck (“Please look after this bear. Thank you”) at which point his adventure really begins.
Nicole Kidman plays a taxidermist intent on adding Paddington to her collection, though her role seems a bit tacked on just to provide Paddington with an antagonist. He has his paws full, trying to find a place to fit in and coming to grips with the idea that the world is not quite like his childhood stories told him it would be. Then again, making marmalade and getting into trouble because he is clumsy and doesn’t understand modern city conveniences like moving stairs, was only going to move the plot along so far.
The computer-generated Paddington (poignantly voiced by Ben Wishaw) is beautifully, even eerily, realistic and the film has a rather lovely London feel to it.
The way the family set off together in the morning to use the public transport, the parents’ attitudes towards a stranger in their midst – Dad takes out extra insurance, while mom makes up a bed in the attic – the way passersby take a talking bear in their stride, is very specific to this place.
The city is ultimately depicted as a place made up of a vast host of different people, making it a home where anyone can fit in. Every now and then a West Indian calypso band pops up to add a bit of music and remind us of the immigrants’ experience in London, trying to fit in during the 1960s. That, plus Paddington referring to children being sent into the countryside via the railway system during WWII, all create a picture of a person out of his depth, looking for his place in the world and swallowed up by the British attitude of keep calm and put on the kettle.
It is also London of the storybooks – the set design for the Browns’ family home is gorgeous. The mom is an illustrator of children’s books and the family home is like a kid’s dream come true. She takes Paddington to visit a friend’s toy store, which also turns out to be a delight of rich detail and colour.
While it is light and fun and frivolous, the storyline never loses sight of the theme of finding your home and it is an enchanting take on Michael Bond’s iconic character.
If you liked Nanny McPhee or Hugo you will like this.