It’s been a while since I’ve seen a family film as clever
and charming as this British import, based on the lovable character introduced
in Michael Bond’s children’s books (with Peggy Fortnum’s illustrations) decades
ago. Since it’s no longer revolutionary to integrate a CGI-animated character
into a live-action movie, Paddington doesn’t
try to impress us on that score (although its use of movie magic is formidable).
It relies instead on a good script, a perfectly chosen cast, and a high degree
of filmmaking skill to woo and win us.
Ben Whishaw provides the voice of the innocent young bear
from Peru who has dreamed of traveling to London ever since a British explorer
dropped in on his family when he was a cub. He finally makes the journey by stowing
away on a ship but doesn’t find the hospitality he expects, at first.
Fortunately, a friendly woman (Sally Hawkins) sees him standing alone at Paddington
Station and persuades her stern-faced husband (Hugh Bonneville) and dubious
children (Samuel Joslin, Madeleine Harris) to bring him home—just for the
night. A series of misadventures follow, mostly because the bear has lived his
whole life in a jungle and doesn’t understand how things work in a typical
English home, or a busy city.
One by one, Paddington wins over the members of the Brown
family, including their housekeeper (played by the delightful Julie Walters)
and eventually Mr. Brown himself. But early on, word of his arrival in London
reaches a steely woman (Nicole Kidman) who works at the natural history museum
and specializes in taxidermy. She is determined to capture and stuff Paddington
and she’ll stop at nothing to achieve her goal.
The screenplay, by director Paul King (with story work by Hamish McColl, whose credits include Mr. Bean’s Holiday)
is admirably solid and packed with slapstick action, sight gags, and a
sprinkling of jokes aimed squarely at parents in the audience. This extends to
the casting of Peter Capaldi (the current Dr.
Who), well known for his foul-mouthed character in The Thick of It, as a hilariously nerdy next-door neighbor. Other
reliable performers in the cast include Jim Broadbent, Matt Lucas, Matt King,
and on the soundtrack, Imelda Staunton and Michael Gambon as Paddington’s
loving aunt and uncle.
A good-hearted film that still believes in happy endings, Paddington is a treat for young and old
alike. What a lovely way to start the movie year.