MOVIE REVIEW: Paddington
February 26, 2015
I have never known the world without Paddington Bear. Born into the literary world around the same time as myself in 1958, Michael Bond's "A Bear Called Paddington" has been a mainstay of not only my life, but for generations of kids who came after me (including my nephews). Paddington Bear was just like me; he was a child. And despite all of Paddington's worldly education and manners taught him in "Darkest Peru" by his Aunt and Uncle, he had all the wide-eyed wonder, rose-colored glasses, optimistic hopefulness and innocent mischievousness that resonated with every child fortunate enough to meet him on the printed page and then run away with Paddington in their own imaginations. The charm of Paddington Bear was that his sticky-sweet marmalade covered paws and adventures didn't rely on super-heroes, car chases, explosions and galaxies far far away; they relied on the day-in and day-out world around him, just like that of you and me.
But, in spite of all the merchandising and the beloved book series and even a short-lived animated tv series, author Michael Bond held tightly to the legacy of Paddington Bear and it wasn't until producer David Heyman (the man behind the Harry Potter franchise) and first-time feature director Paul King entered the picture that Bond agreed to allow Paddington to make the jump to the big screen. The result is PADDINGTON, a film that perfectly captures the whimsy and fun of the books and this beloved lovable bear while sprinkling it with the sweet goodness of orange marmalade! Eye-popping, color saturated visuals, perfect casting which includes a cuddly and adorable CGI created Paddington, and the most endearing and heartwarming voicing of Paddington by Ben Whishaw, make PADDINGTON the "Must See" family film event of the year.
Developing a script that is grounded in the original Paddington book and then peppering in adventures from others within the series, we first meet Paddington as a young cub in "Darkest Peru" by way of a black & white newsreel made by a great Explorer from London who was exploring the region. And as the world of imagination would have it, the bears were extremely intelligent and open to the experiences of civilization that the Explorer could teach them. Raised by his Aunt Lucy and Uncle Pastuzo, the little cub is thus exposed to culture, speech (thanks to a gramophone and recordings left with them by the Explorer), tea time and marmalade, and have an open invitation to visit the Explorer in London.
After the Explorer's departure, although Pastuzo and Lucy often talk about going to London, it remains a dream; a dream until an earthquake tragically kills Uncle Pastuzo and destroys their home in "Darkest Peru" leaving Aunt Lucy to care for Paddington, something she is too old and frail to do, thus making this the time for Paddington to go to London. Remembering the Explorer's stories about the kindness of Londoners and that during the war they welcomed homeless children, Aunt Lucy stows Paddington away on a cargo ship sending him off to London to find a loving home.
On his arrival at Paddington Station, the little bear finds that the times and the people are nothing like the stories told by the Explorer. People are somber, rushed, rude with no time for a little bear; that is until the Brown family appears. Mary Brown is immediately taken with the little bear and promptly names him PADDINGTON for Paddington Station (since no one can speak Bear), convincing her stiff and stuffy husband to let him come home with them. A family desperately in need of some good marmalade (or a little bear) to bind them together, hilariously disastrous adventures abound, starting with a bathroom plumbing incident. With escalator escapades, skateboarding chase scenes through Notting Hill, shopping excursions with pickpockets, a flying bear with an umbrella and other assorted fun, the disasters only serve to bring Mr. and Mrs. Brown and their children Jonathan and Judy closer.
But thanks to a nosy Notting Hill neighbor and an evil taxidermist named Millicent working at the Natural History Museum, Paddington may not be safe. While Mr. Brown tries to help Paddington find the Explorer, Millicent is hot on the trail to capture Paddington and add him to the "stuffed animal" collection at the museum. It's going to take the whole Brown family to get out of this sticky wicket!
Written and directed by Paul King, with the blessing of Michael Bond, PADDINGTON is a pantheon of visual - and emotional - delights. Working with cinematographer Erik Wilson and production designer Gary Williamson, the visuals dazzle. Color tells its own story here and Wilson is masterful with its lighting and lensing, creating subtleties of emotion and metaphor that capture the wonder and whimsy of the stories. Williamson and King tell the story of the Browns and their home by way of a dollhouse come to life. Clever and engaging for even the youngest viewer. Staying true to the heart and magic of Paddington Bear, the story is well crafted and constructed with the plot lines about love and family and the depths of that love, which come together in a neat little bow while leaving you wanting to see more adventures.
Casting is perfection starting with out initial introductions to Aunt Lucy and Uncle Pastuzo who are voiced by Imelda Staunton and Michael Gambon, respectively. "Human" cast just steal the heart, particularly Sally Hawkins who radiates love and affection as Mrs. Brown. Julie Walters is a kick in the funny bone, providing sage grounding as live-in relative Mrs. Bird. The often under-rated Hugh Bonneville is anything but as Mr. Brown as his heart melts the more Brown is around PADDINGTON. Jim Broadbent delights as the immigrant antique shop owner Mr. Gruber while Peter Capaldi is a scream as neighbor Mr. Curry. Stealing the show is Nicole Kidman who "wows" as Millicent, making her a villain that is beyond delicious!
And then there's PADDINGTON himself - amazing CGI design and creation. Expressive with soulful eyes, the animators at London's Framestore have outdone themselves in making PADDINGTON as real as one has always imagined. But then you add Ben Whishaw's voicing with those beautiful emotional eyes... your heartstrings may never be the same again. You feel every emotion with PADDINGTON to such a degree you just want to reach through the screen and bring him home with you.... The film's heart, the heart within the performances and the heart of PADDINGTON just made my own heart smile.
PADDINGTON feels so real, so genuine, you will find yourself tearing up in sadness and in joy, wanting your very own Paddington Bear to cuddle and hold. There is not a false emotion anywhere in the film. PADDINGTON - a fanciful whimsical delight for all ages!
Directed by Paul King
Written by Paul King and Hamish McColl (story by) based on the Michael Bond character "Paddington Bear"
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, Nicole Kidman, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton and Ben Whishaw as "Paddington"