Synopsis: A young Peruvian bear travels to London in search of a home. Finding himself lost and alone at Paddington Station, he meets the kindly Brown family, who offer him a temporary haven
Stars: Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, Jim Broadbent, Nicole Kidman, Ben Whishaw, Peter Capaldi, Julie Walters, Imelda Staunton, Michael Gambon
Director: Paul King
Running Length: 94 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: I wouldn’t hold it against you if you took one look at the above poster for Paddington and wanted to run for the exit – with it’s on the nose tagline and been-there-seen-that antics you may write off this big screen adaptation of Michael Bond’s beloved literary bear as a kids-only affair. That would be a mistake.
My history with Paddington goes way back to a local theater company in Minnesota. My first theatrical experience was seeing a stage production of Paddington at the Children’s Theater Company and ever since then I’ve had an overwhelming fondness for the bear from darkest Peru that arrives in London looking for a family that will take him in. As lovable as that other popular children’s bear, Winnie-The-Pooh, but faced with bigger city adventures, Paddington was a true bear of the world.
As this is (surprisingly) Paddington’s big-screen debut, we’re treated to a streamlined origin story that shows how our hero moves from living the wilds of Peru with his aunt and uncle (Imelda Staunton, Maleficent, and Michael Gambon) to modern day London where he’s taken in by the Brown family. When his arrival catches the eye of a sinister taxidermist (Nicole Kidman, Stoker), it’s up to Paddington and the Browns to outwit her and avoid getting stuffed.
Had Paddington been an American production, this whole set-up might have played like the also-ran story it is. Under the helm of a British team, however, the movie is positively charming from its spirited performances to a colorfully gorgeous (not gaudy) production design. Populated with richly strong primary colors that ground the movie in a kind of whimsical reality instead of the pure fantasy it actually is, there’s interesting detail around every corner.
Director Peter King keeps things moving at a brisk pace, never letting the 94 minutes feel slack. True, that does mean some slight overuse of slapstick humor but it’s a good natured fun that’s well-mannered and veddy veddy British.
Though originally voiced by Colin Firth, the voice of Paddington comes courtesy of Ben Whishaw (Skyfall) and it’s easy to see why Firth and the filmmakers parted ways. Firth’s voice was perhaps too mature for the impish bear and Whishaw gives him a youth that rings true. Hugh Bonneville (The Monuments Men) and Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) are nicely paired as the head of the Brown family. She’s a free spirit and he’s a button-ed down businessman overly protective of their two children which leads to a nice subplot about the Browns that blends nicely with Paddington’s tale.
Even saddled with a platinum bob that appears to have gone through several iterations during filmmaking, Kidman is razor sharp as the villainess of the picture. Even when she’s popping up in slight films, Kidman keeps things interesting so while her role may veer to the “too scary for young kids” side (you decide if you want to explain taxidermy to your youngins) she’s a statuesque ice queen that’s nicely menacing.
A true unexpected delight, it’s a shame the film wasn’t released in its original Christmas slot to attract the kind of family crowds it deserves but it was quite a busy time for holiday releases. The humor may not be crass enough to keep U.S. audiences used to fart jokes appeased but I was downright charmed by the movie. It’s sweet, quite funny, and exceedingly well made…did I mention the visual effects deserve a round of applause? Paddington has taken a long time to get from Peru to movie screens…and the journey was worth the wait.