The Adventure Begins
Adapted from the best-selling and internationally adored series of children’s stories by British author Michael Bond, the live-action film, Paddington follows the antics of a young marmalade-munching bear from Darkest Peru, whose perfect manners and good intentions frequently lead to comical mishaps and moments of high chaos. Originally introduced to children in Michael Bond’s 1958 book, A Bear Called Paddington, with the subsequent Paddington Bear series selling over 35 million copies — having also been translated into 40 different languages — it’s no surprise that we find ourselves with the charmingly polite Paddington Bear — who captured many hearts and has become globally recognized as a modern children’s classic — at long last, gracing the silver screen.
It’s perhaps surprising that it has taken this long for a Paddington Bear feature, or potential franchise, to get off the ground. After several small-screen incarnations, including a hugely successful 56-episode British television series — which began airing in1975 — this particular Paddington marks the very first time author Michael Bond has given any Paddington project his full blessing. Produced by David Heyman — the man responsible for breathing life into all eight record-breaking Harry Potter films — Paddington serves as a refreshing entry into the family entertainment market, as this flick tells the universal yarn of an outsider in search of a home, encapsulating a strong sense of wonder, imagination and heart, similar to that of the Harry Potter pictures. Helmed by the two-time BAFTA nominated Paul King, with an original screenplay by filmmaker King, who wrote and directed Bunny and the Bull (2009), Paddington is an entertainingly funny, playful and charming tale, which follows the comical misadventures of a young Peruvian bear who travels to London in search of a new home.
The film opens in the deep jungles of Darkest Peru, where an explorer named Montgomery Clyde (Tim Downie) locates a family of semi intelligent bears whom he realizes can learn English. Before departing, Clyde tells the bears — who quickly develop a deep appetite for marmalade — that they are always welcome to lodge with him should they ever wish to visit Britain. The bears, named Lucy and Pastuzo (gracefully voiced by Imelda Staunton and Michael Gambon), thereafter live in harmony with their nephew. One day, an unexpected earthquake strikes their home forcing them to seek shelter underground. After Pastuzo is tragically killed in the accident, Lucy encourages her nephew to seek solace and a new home in London with their friend, explorer Montgomery Clyde, while she moves into a retirement home for old bears.
When the optimistic young bear finally reaches London, he finds himself lost and alone at Paddington Station — which he is eventually named after — and begins to fear that life in the city is not all he had imagined. Things, however, begin to look up when he meets the somewhat disconnected Brown family. Upon reading the hand-written label around his neck, which states, ‘Please look after this bear,’ the family decide to take him home, offering Paddington tea and a roof over his head, until he can find a more permanent living arrangement. In search for Montgomery Clyde’s whereabouts, Paddington bonds with the Browns — which strengthens their own relationship with one another — as he becomes somewhat part of the family, and feels as though his luck has indeed changed. That is, until this ‘rarest of bears’ catches the eye of the sadistic Millicent (Nicole Kidman), a sinister museum taxidermist who has an old score to settle with Paddington.
First and foremost, Paddington is a visually spectacular film, as it literally ‘brings to life’ the much-loved pages of the children’s literary favorite; from the exotic jungles of Darkest Peru, to the Natural History Museum’s rooftops, to the cosy interiors of a Portobello Road antiques shop, everything in this picture has been created with sincere care, fondness and such remarkable attention to detail. The creative talent behind the camera — including Oscar-winning costume designer, Lindy Hemming, The Dark Knight (2008), director of photography, Erik Wilson, The Imposter (2012) and production designer, Gary Williamson, Submarine (2010) — have fashioned a richly picturesque, child-inspired world of wonder and awe, cramming limitless imagination into every possible frame.
Paddington Bear himself, a character instantly recognizable by his battered red hat, blue duffle coat and quirky smile, has been digitally brought to life by visual effects supervisor, Andy Kind, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011), and animation director, Pablo Grillo, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005), along with the huge visual effects team at Framestore, the highly acclaimed British effects company responsible for creating such fantastical characters as Dobby the House Elf and the Hippogriffs in the Harry Potter saga. Although a computer-generated, wholly animated bear, Paddington’s iconic look is preserved, as the bear’s design is exceptionally life-like, enabling him to integrate with his surroundings — whether causing a series of unintentional calamities in the Brown household or roaming around the dynamic streets of London — rather seamlessly.
The entire cast of Paddington, led by acclaimed British performer, Ben Whishaw, Skyfall (2012), as the voice of Paddington, do a wonderful job in their respective roles. When it comes to the Brown family members, Hugh Bonneville, The Monuments Men (2014), is audacious as the uptight patriarch, Mr. Brown, while Sally Hawkins, Godzilla (2014), is sublime as the kind, free-spirited Mrs. Brown. Relative newcomers Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin, are worthy of mention as the delightfully amusing siblings Judy and Jonathan Brown, welcoming Paddington, the lost bear, into their hearts and as a result, finding their own lives changed forever. Rounding out this esteemed ensemble is Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge! (2001), who embraces the role of Millicent, a deliciously evil taxidermist with an eye on Paddington, while Julie Walters, known for playing Molly Weasley in the Harry Potter series, is a hoot as Mrs. Bird, the Browns’ eccentric housekeeper — a distant relative who resides with the family and runs a very tight ship within the household. Finally, supplying many of the film’s biggest laughs is Peter Capaldi, In the Loop (2009), who plays Mr. Curry, the Brown’s bad-tempered, curtain-twitching neighbor.
This uplifting flick’s biggest triumph is in its widespread family appeal, enchanting both the young and the young-at-heart, as Paddington is truly an ageless tale, crafted by the industry’s most up-to-date technology. The film encompasses the honest spirit of what has come before, staying true to Michael Bond’s universally beloved books, with reassuringly familiar touches sprinkled throughout and several of the comic mishaps being instantly recognizable to those generations who devoured Bond’s stories as children — while a few modern twists have been thrown in for a new generation.
In essence, Paddington is the quintessential refugee and filmmaker King has woven strong themes into this fantastical immigrant story, exploring notions of compassion, tolerance and empathy, as Paddington is all about the kindness of strangers and being open to understanding others. As far as family entertainment goes, this affectionate inspired feat — peppered with a touch of witty British humor — is the ideal all-encompassing good-natured film. Unaware of the wacky mayhem one young rambunctious bear will bring to the Brown’s everyday life, they embrace him like any welcoming family should, as in the end, Paddington Bear may have been bad for the Brown’s plumbing, but he was good for their hearts — possibly yours too — as Paddington is about as cuddly and tender as its wholesome titular character.
4 / 5 – Recommended
Reviewed by S-Littner
Paddington is released through Studio Canal Australia