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.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.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.
These days, family movies try as hard as they can to appeal to the kiddos and their parents; maybe executives know how excruciating it can be to sit through a particularly painful foray into baby-talk and recycled jokes. Though it isn't my personal favorite genre, it is undeniable that family films please more routinely than any other category in film. So much emphasis is put onto each project that it's rare to find a stinker among the handful.
But most children's films are only good, entertaining for the time being but not packed with enough quality to have an impact for more than a few months. Imagine my surprise when Paddington went from 0 to 60, straight into my cynical heart. Paddington is far too marvelous to throw around the effective cliché that it has something for the kids and something for the adults; like Babe, The Muppets, and yes, even Frozen, it transcends our prejudiced assumptions and takes us inside a fairy tale where anything can happen. It doesn't matter what age we are; it is as if you could throw dust into the air, only to find it fall in a golden flurry. Paddington shouldn't work, but it does. It does so well, in fact, that I can say with full confidence that it is one of the best genre films of the decade.
Paddington the Bear is already a beloved literary figure, of course, but when we first meet him in his own star vehicle, it is as though he is new again. As the film begins, we find him living in Darkest, Peru with his aunt and uncle (Imelda Staunton and Michael Gambon), both of whom are marmalade obsessed and intelligent enough to speak in cultured British accents. The film explains this noteworthy phenomenon: decades earlier, an explorer arrived in Peru, and, smitten with the bears otherworldly craftiness, taught them how to act as if they were civilized human beings.
After tragedy strikes, Paddington's aunt decides that it would be best if her nephew went to find a home in London. When he arrives at a train station, most disregard his exuberant politeness, but not Mrs. Brown (Sally Hawkins). Her family looks at him with differing levels of judgment, especially her husband (Hugh Bonneville), but the Brown's pity him, eventually deciding to take him in.
Paddington may have inimitable manners, but he surely isn't gifted when it comes to gracefulness (in a hilariously mounted comedic sequence, Paddington discovers the joys of the family bathroom, only to flood the entire house). Most would give him up, but with his considerable charm to make up for his klutziness, he even wins over Mr. Brown. But just as things begin to look up into storybook heaven, Millicent Clyde (a scene- stealing Nicole Kidman) enters the scene, a blood-thirsty taxidermist who wants nothing more than to stuff Paddington for her latest exhibit.
With its candy-colored imagery and bouncy humor, Paddington is impossible to resist, a feature that really and truly makes you relive the glorious innocence of childhood. Voiced by the genial Ben Whishaw, Paddington is a fluffy friend for the ages, more cuddly and comical than Despicable Me's famed Minions. The CGI used to flesh him out is so convincing that every single strand of fur sticks out with remarkable detail; there were times I forgot that Paddington is an outright miracle of animation, not a real-life talent I could meet on the red carpet.
There you have it. Paddington doesn't need an analysis, nor does it need a critic to highlight how much of a wonder it is. It is an unusually magical and unusually well-crafted family movie that needs to be watched immediately. Take you mom, take your dad, take your sister, take your brother — take anybody. Because, like the little girl who sat behind me during its extraordinary 95 minutes, I like the bear.
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- May 2, 2015