Paddington review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Paddington is one of those rare exceptions of a children’s book adaptation that doesn’t ruin the character, but still takes enough chances to be its own thing. Though it takes a rather predictable route for a little bear in a big city, there’s an undeniably charming spirit to its rather innocent approach to mishaps and hijinks. It’s the type of family film that is easy enough to hate by design which is why it’s delightfully surprising when it wins you over. It’s also a rather impressive result for a film that features a bear eating his own clumps of earwax.
What makes the film so likable is Paddington’s gentle nature with a sweet voice by Ben Whishaw. He breaks glasses, slams into breakfast tables and floods a bathroom, but none of it is malicious or in the name of a joke. Paddington is a kind soul that just wants to find his home and with as much manners as a talking Peruvian bear in London can display. Plucked from his village of marmalade producing bears, he mills about a train station politely begging strangers for a home. He attracts the attention of the Brown family with a charitable wife, an analytically nervous husband, an apathetic teenage girl and an easily amused young boy.
Paddington receives his name from the Brown family based off the station as a substitute for his true name spoken in the roar of bears. It creates an interesting language which defines Paddington as a bilingual between the speak of bear and man. He later teaches its intricacies to the teenage girl who establish their own secret code with each other. It’s never truly explained why Paddington is able to speak proper English, but it is treated as a magnificent scientific discovery at least for the beginning of the film. For the rest of the film, however, hardly anyone seems all that phased by a walking and talking bear in a red hat and blue coat. Either England has become extremely progressive or the entire population needs to get their eyes checked.
Giving Paddington something to do instead of clumsily stumbling about, he seeks the old explorer that once visited his village years ago and gave him his trademark hat. This eventually leads to a pleasant visit at an antique shop and some snooping in a secretive archive with an old fashioned pneumatic tube system for processing requests. In between solving the mystery, Padding manages to get into all sorts of unintentional trouble. He accidentally cloughs up the pneumatic tube system with a marmalade sandwich and ends up catching a pickpocket through his clumsy method of returning his supposed wallet.
While there doesn’t appear to be any animal control agencies all that interested in Paddington’s appearance, his arrival is noticed by a vindictive taxidermist Millicent (Nicole Kidman). She has an axe to grind with the bear in her evil quest for fame. She goes to the absurd lengths of a villain from threatening witnesses to using all sorts of gadgets. Armed with a high-powered tranquilizer pistol and more doodads than James Bond, she breaks into the Brown’s home to kidnap the bear, but ends up succumbing to Paddington’s uncanny ability to bring unlikely disaster. Styled in a blonde bob and sleek white dress, she makes a suitable foe for the plucky bundle of fur. She’s not that memorable of a villain, but she works well enough for such a story.
The special effects are worth noting in that they never become at all towering. Though there are a few sequences that play up the movie more as a rollercoaster of Looney Tunes style slapstick, Paddington blends in seamlessly to this world. It’s neat to see his ludicrous behavior transpire on screen, but it’s also rather pleasant to see him in some simple scenes where you buy the image of a talking bear less as a CGI creation. He has a few pleasant talks with the Brown family where he’s not fumbling around in an apologetic state. Moments like those make him all the more likable for scenes when he seems to break every single object in a room.
Paddington is a family film that manages to itch all the right spots. It’s joyous without being dry and hilarious without being zany. Kids will love Paddington’s physical comedy as when he attempts to ward off a wild shower nozzle with a toilet seat shield and toilet brush sword. Adults will be smiling right along with the clever wit in much of the writing. When searching for Paddington, Mrs. Brown describes him to the police as bear with a hat. The officer remarks that this isn’t much to go on to which Mrs. Brown replies with a raised eyebrow. There’s a bizarre logic to Paddington’s true place in the human world, but the film never addresses it much outside of a handful of jokes. If this aspect honestly bothers audiences, maybe they need to reassess their expectations for movies about talking bears.