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A young Peruvian bear with a passion for all things British travels to London in search of a home. Finding himself lost and alone at Paddington Station, he begins to realize that city life is not all he had imagined - until he meets the kind Brown family, who read the label around his neck ('Please look after this bear. Thank you.') and offer him a temporary haven. It looks as though his luck has changed until this rarest of bears catches the eye of a museum taxidermist. Written by
There's plenty to be cynical about where Paddington is concerned. The first feature film about the iconic bear - red hat, blue coat, suitcase in hand - was first announced in 2007, and went through a gestation period that's extraordinarily long even for a heavily animated film. The trailer's (literal) toilet humour seemed to confirm that it was pitched firmly at kids. And last, but certainly not least, the cast experienced a shake-up of fairly seismic proportions when Colin Firth announced in July that - with the unanimous consent of all concerned - he would no longer be voicing Paddington. All signs pointed towards a disaster of a movie, one stitched together to cash in on rather than celebrate the phenomenon of Paddington, a little bear who has lived in books, TV series and cuddly merchandise around the world.
It's a flat-out joy to discover, then, that Paddington is very far from a disaster. Indeed, it's an unmitigated delight of a family film. Of course, "family films" don't really cater to everyone in the family a lot of the time - the phrase is a euphemism applied to movies that adults must put up with or suffer through for the sake of entertaining their children. But Paul King's Paddington, based on the beloved books by Michael Bond, really does have something for everyone and is, incidentally, an utterly lovely movie about families to boot. The young will be bowled over by the adorable bear who tumbles through London and into the hearts of his adopted family. The young at heart -and even a few older, crankier people - will find much to enjoy in the film's cheerfully subversive script.
Our journey begins in Darkest Peru, where a young bear (voiced with pitch-perfect charm by Whishaw) lives happily with his Aunt Lucy (Staunton) and Uncle Pastuzo (Gambon). He inherits from them a healthy love for marmalade and London, as well as a floppy, red felt hat left behind decades ago by English explorer Montgomery Clyde (Downie). When an earthquake destroys their idyllic home, Aunt Lucy urges her nephew to strike out to London. Many jars of marmalade later, he finds himself in the iconic train station that gives him his name. He meets the Brown family: risk- averse Henry (Bonneville), dreamy Mary (Hawkins) and their children, Judy (Harris) and Jonathan (Joslin). With Henry insisting that Paddington can only stay while he looks for a more permanent home, the bear begins investigations in London - unaware that Millicent, an obsessive, possibly crazy taxidermist (Kidman), has very specific reasons for wanting him to visit her museum.
Strictly speaking, there isn't anything all that new or original about Paddington. We've seen the trope many times before - in trying to find a new home, a misfit changes the hearts and minds of the people who will eventually become his family. The narrative of the film is also little more than a patchwork of wacky incidents and hijinks: Paddington floods the bathroom while trying to come to terms with the "facilities"; Paddington apprehends a criminal through sheer good luck and his incredibly honest nature; Paddington and Henry infiltrate the top-secret Geographers' Guild to hunt down Mr. Clyde.
And yet, King has crafted something quite charming and magical around the bare bones of his story. The film practically radiates love for the sweet-tempered, unfailingly polite bear at its heart. A life-long fan of the ursine hero, King peppers his script with smart references to Bond's books, from Paddington's trademark 'hard stare', used to embarrass people into behaving better, through to the meddling interference of nosy, thrifty neighbour Mr. Curry (Capaldi). He's also updated and deepened the story to give the elder Browns their own emotional arc: Mary's determination to open her heart and home to a stranger is what eventually leads Henry to getting back in touch with his wilder, more fun-loving side. The film also looks quite spectacular, whether Paddington is surfing down a flight of stairs in a bathtub or we're allowed a dollhouse glimpse at the Brown family as they go about their lives.
Most importantly, King infuses the entire film with a practically joyous strain of comedy and wit. Pratfalls and sight gags are accompanied by deliciously silly allusions to William Shakespeare and Mission Impossible. Even the film's supporting characters get their own hefty share of comedy, whether it's housekeeper Mrs Bird (Walters) distracting a security guard by means of a booze throwdown or Mr. Curry falling instantly for Millicent to a smooth burst of Lionel Richie. Millicent herself is an inspired creation. Prowling through the film, togged out in figure-hugging snakeskin and wielding scalpels, she brings to mind and subverts the icy-cool blonde archetype most beloved of Alfred Hitchcock.
The sharp script and stunning visuals would mean little without a cast wholly committed to their roles, and King has struck gold with his offbeat casting choices. Bonneville, a veteran of Downton Abbey, has no problem playing Henry's constant anxiety over his children, but also gleefully flings propriety to the winds as he slips into tunic and apron for a spot of howlingly funny undercover business. Hawkins lends Mary - the loving, tender heart of the household and Paddington's biggest champion - a soulful gravitas. Great as they are, however, the MVP here is Kidman. Her fantastically manic performance as Millicent reminds us why it's a damn shame that she hasn't been in a comedy for years - she's so cheerfully unhinged in the film that she steals pretty much every scene she's in.
It doesn't matter whether you're a fan of Bond's books, someone who only knows Paddington as a cuddly soft toy, or a neophyte who has never heard of this walking, talking, marmalade-loving bear. Paddington is a big, warm bear hug of a film, one that will enchant children and tickle adults, even as it grabs just about everyone by the heart with its charm and humour.
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