Starring Ben Whishaw (voice of), Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Nicole Kidman, Peter Capaldi,
Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent
Runtime 95 mins
Family films have died a horrible death recently. When was the last time your entire brood sat down to a film, and all agreed that it was great? Never? Director Paul King’s second film brings the loveable, accident-prone bear right into the heart of contemporary London. Literally everyone you know will love it. And if they don’t, you can stop knowing them – clearly they don’t have anything resembling a heart anyway.
The story starts in Darkest Peru, where an explorer happens upon two bears. He teaches them English, gives them a love of marmalade, and then leaves for home again. Flash forward to an adorable young furry creature collecting oranges for his Aunt Lucy and Uncle Pastuzo. Then that mild peril comes in the form of a devastating earthquake. Paddington leaves his destroyed home, bound for London and the explorer who told his aunt and uncle they’d always be welcome in his home.
There are two kinds of humour in Paddington. Slapstick set pieces work for children and show off what King learned directing TV comedy. No one mentions how ridiculous a talking bear in an anorak is, which plays to the strength of the movie. It embraces its ridiculousness completely. That’s not to say all the jokes are Paddington in a fight with a tap. The non-visual humour and the clever wordplay are clearly meant for adults who’ve brought their kids to see the movie. Probably the most surprising part of the entire thing is that these jokes actually work.
The strokes of seriousness in between the comedy ensures we don’t forget that Paddington engages, as it always has, with incredibly difficult themes: refugees, the search for home, the loss of family. The sight of a lone, lost person (or bear) sitting on a beaten up suitcase, with a luggage tag around their neck resonates no matter what time period the story is set in. The first Paddington book came out in 1958, but that doesn’t make the refugee image any less heart-breaking. These serious moments play out alongside the light-heartedness. Take the scene when Paddington and Mrs Brown visit Mr Gruber, a German antiques dealer. A train laden with cakes and tea comes out of a cuckoo clock before Mr Gruber reflects on his own experience fleeing his homeland during the Nazi regime.
The actors aren’t exactly challenged by their roles, but some do better than others. Nicole Kidman essentially plays Nigel Farage, now sporting a stylish blond bob. She’s a proper old-fashioned villain, none of this misunderstood hero nonsense we’re sick of already. Kidman’s a purely evil taxidermist who wants to add Paddington to her collection. Julie Walters plays the polar opposite of Kidman. Mrs. Bird is a loving Scottish granny with a slightly worrying drinking habit. But who amongst us can really say we don’t love a gin-soaked old lady?
Paddington celebrates the best of people, the best of London. It’s about the Britain we wish we lived in – warm, welcoming, packed with interesting curiosities and even more interesting people.