UK National release:November 28th Rating:(PG)Runtime: 95 mins
Director:Paul King Writer(s): Paul King
Cast: Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Nicole Kidman and Ben Whishaw as the voice of Paddington Bear.
Let the record state that I am and have never been one of those children who harboured a love for Paddington Bear. I didn’t like Paddington books, cartoons or the hundreds of paraphernalia that used to adorn most bookstores, doctors waiting rooms etc. I was not that kid and I can’t really tell you why. When they announced that the film was to be released this year, with a commission of Paddington Bear statues dotted around London to coincide with the films release – I was less than enthused.
Paul King’s colourful adaptation has somewhat alleviated those (admittedly made up) negative connotations that I have come to associate with a much beloved Bear. Paddington creator, Michael Bond (who makes a Stan Lee type cameo in the film) gave the finished movie the thumbs up – and though he may be a little biased, it really could have gone the other way – he could have hated, and fans of the original short stories may still pick holes but as a relative novice, moreover, someone who was determined not to enjoy this film – I have been turned.
Set in modern London, decades from its first publication. It’s all quite necessary really – but it’s not so much of a reinvention (no puffa-jacket, baseball cap wearing hamburger eating bear in this version) but a faithful, heart-warming, revival of an infamous classic. Paddington still arrives from the Darkest Peru, with an explorers hat and a marmalade sandwich in tow. Having left the jungle and his old Aunt (Imelda Staunton)after a disastrous earthquake destroys their home, Paddington is urged to go to London and seek out the explorer who had visited more than 60 years prior and had promised the bears a home from home, on the off-chance the bears should visit. So when Paddington arrives, his terribly polite demeanour(a trait he has acquired from his teachings and a nod to the London of old that may have graced the old books) is a little misplaced in the cold, lonely London of 2014.
Cue the Brown family, all heightened versions of their original selves from the books. Mrs Brown (Hawkins), eccentric and kind, is quick to take pity on the bear – naming him after the station in which they meet and determined to help him find his new home with the explorer. Mr Brown (Bonneville) on the other hand is reluctant – understandably Paddington is a stranger… and a bear. But darker things are afoot when a series of mishaps make it difficult for Paddington to feel at home in his new surroundings, and later it transpires that someone is looking to house him – on the wall of the Natural History Museum.
Viral pictures and memes aside, Paddington has a combination of humour, drama and action and it’s truly a family film, and not just for fans of the original books and cartoons either. Genuinely funny in parts, and beautifully composited (you’ll marvel over the colour and how kitsch and swinging 60s London looks) the simple but consistent story arc is a set up for future films; from what I gather it retained much of the spirit and charm that made the originals so loved, whilst still offering something engaging and fresh for a new generation and international audience.
The use of Jamaican calypso music is another fantastic nod to the film’s West London location and colourful history that’s entwined with the 1950s arrival of Jamaican immigrants on the Windrush and Paddington’s own arrival in the city. It’s a contribution that the film has graciously and boldly chosen to make, aside from the obvious parallels to one leaning towards the children of war who were often picked up in stations and given new homes. London is a melting pot of fused cultures – a home for all.
Nicole Kidman assumes the role of a villain hell-bent on capturing Paddington for her own taxidermist obsessions, and she’s very funny in the role, but it’s Ben Whishaw and Hugh Bonneville as Paddington and Mr Brown, respectively, that have the biggest story journeys and share many of the best scenes in the film. A large reason for that is down to the otherworldly voice of Ben Whishaw who’s instantly affable voice to the titular character just works so well with the young curious bear. Before the end of the film (and like the majority of the cast) I didn’t (just) see a bear – Whishaw makes the character his own, and he is arguably the first to do so; Paddington has always been narrated – never voiced directly which is why the original casting of Colin Firth got cut – King had always been thinking of the narrative voice.
Produced by the team behind Harry Potter, it was expected that a few well-known faces from British screens would make an appearance – and I have no doubt the list will grow larger and more impressive of what I believe will be a successful new journey for the old beloved bear. It’s what’s missing from film at the moment. A bridge between the something-for-everyone ethos attributed to PIXAR animations, and good old-fashioned live action family adventure; Paddington will leave you feeling warm inside.