A young bear from deepest, darkest Peru is forced to leave after his Peruvian woodland habitat is destroyed. His Aunt Lucy tells him that he must travel alone to London where he should have no difficulties finding a new home. It’s in the English capital where he meets the Brown family, and from there, a series of calamitous yet incredibly well-mannered adventures take place.
Perhaps I was too young to remember a great deal of the wonderful popular kid’s TV show but I do recall the stop-motion series having an endearingly charming personality (much like Paddington himself). Having had the chance to go back and watch a few of the episodes, not only did I instantly recognise the charm and wit, but I had also noticed how eloquently British the show was. I must admit, on first hearing of the film’s production I felt slightly disgruntled considering so many children’s TV shows (which hold a dear place to so many hearts) have been poorly misrepresented on the big screen. TV shows such as Thunderbirds, Inspector Gadget and The Smurfs have been abysmally portrayed in movie form making it crystal clear that the producers only ambitions were to milk as much profit from the franchises teats as they possibly could. This kind of film draws large audiences because not only does it attract a younger demographic (most children’s films easily sell) but so many adults line up to watch the childhood heroes they grew up with in all their glory on cinema screens.
And rest assured ladies and gentlemen, that’s exactly what you get with Paddington. I was extremely impressed with how much the film stays true to the original source material; it never truly forgets its origins and pays tribute where possible. It’s wonderful to see a children’s film, not only rooted in its own heritage, but also with a unique sense of originality. Paul King has done a magnificent job bringing his own quirky vision (something of which can be clearly seen in his first feature film Bunny and the Bull) to the story. At times, Paddington has a similar feel to the works of Wes Anderson, with most obvious comparisons to Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) with clockwork set movements, an interesting use of framing, and a wide range of ebulliently zany characters.
For me though, the way in which it represents the oddly quaint British charm from the original novels and TV show is exactly where the film excels. Paddington himself is absolutely as you’d expect and hope him to be; pleasantly dainty, charmingly polite and disastrously clumsy with a veracious hunger for marmalade. The Brown family are given a slightly modern makeover but the original dynamic as a close family remains. Additional characters such as Mrs. Bird, Mr. Gruber and Mr. Curry are exactly as you’d expect. The storyline itself is wonderfully honourable basing a large deal of the film around the first three books in the series: “Please Look After This Bear”, “A Bear In Hot Water”, and “Paddington Goes Underground”. The depiction of London is wonderfully unusual as it’s a city where everything feels nicely condensed into a picturesque small village-like society with one taxi driver, one isolated house, and a handful of citizens to be seen in a gargantuan city. Producer David Heyman also deserves a great deal of credit for bringing a similar style and level of production value we’re used to seeing from his work in the Harry Potter franchise.
The casting is superb with great performances from Julie Walters, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, and Peter Capaldi. There’s also the occasional cameo appearance by actors you may recognise from the world of British TV comedy. The only negatives I find with the acting are slightly wooden performances from the two children whom play Judy and Jonathan, and Jim Broadbent’s Mr. Gruber can come across as a little over eccentric (but perhaps this is as a result of my misunderstanding of the larger than life Hungarian antiques dealer).
The star of the show is the titular bear, Paddington himself. On first viewing of the trailers, I thought seeing him in CGI form just wouldn’t work but in context of the film (and hearing him talk), he looks and feels incredibly convincing. I think the voiceover by Ben Whishaw really adds a youthful but reassuringly witty charisma. Considering they almost went with Colin Firth for the role, it was a stroke of redeeming genius to cast the younger Whishaw. No disrespect to Firth but it just wouldn’t have worked and this is something he has publicly confessed.
Overall this film is an absolute triumph and one I hope continues to bring as much joy to peoples days as much as it had mine.
4 and a half Marmalade Sandwiches out of 5
by Simon Garganera Price