Review: Paddington (2014)

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Director: Paul King
Screenwriter: Paul King
Based on Paddington Bear, a character created by Michael Bond
Cast: Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi & Nicole Kidman, with the voices of Ben Whishaw, Michael Gambon & Imelda Staunton
Runtime: 95 min // Certificate: PG

Unlike most people of a certain age, I had no idea who Paddington even was until fairly recently, so the notion of a feature length film based on his adventures didn’t trouble me anywhere near as much as it might have done. As a friend will testify, I used to think Paddington was the Mayor of London – confusing him with Dick Whittington (don’t ask me how…) – and, as a child, I used to get him confused with Winnie the Pooh, despite the fact he’s named Paddington because he was found at Paddington Station… yeah, I know; I was a stupid, stupid child.

Anyway, having educated myself in the true history of Paddington – as opposed to my confused interpretation of his fictional life – I settled in to watch Paul King’s feature-length take on the character with a certain sense of dread. Even though Paddington meant nothing to me, I’m generally opposed to any and all attempts to reinvent characters for the sake of modern audiences, instead believing that the best way to immerse children in classic stories is to have them read and watch them as they were originally intended. Hey, maybe I’m a bit more culturally conservative than I think I am… That said, my opposition to Paddington wasn’t based solely on nostalgia for a past I never actually experienced inasmuch as it was based on recent experience; you can’t look at things like Postman Pat: The Movie or Transformers and tell me that contemporary reinvention has been a roaring success, because it patently hasn’t.

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Well, much to my surprise and delight, Paddington is… well, it’s alright. I mean for starters it’s an oddly political film and I think, in the current anti-immigrant climate that is smothering much of Europe, it’s also a necessary and praiseworthy film that has far more balls to stand up for liberal values than most of our “esteemed” politicians right now. If you think I’m reading too much into what is essentially a children’s film, go and see it for yourself; Paddington wears its heart and its values on its sleeve, and that is wonderfully refreshing in a time when everyone else seems to be engaging in a verminous race to the bottom to prove their “toughness” and general lack of human decency and compassion. Paddington admires our differences, praises our similarities, and does not care if you think it’s all a bunch of lefty propaganda or not. I love it for that, even though – objectively speaking – it isn’t a particularly good film. In its defence, however, it also isn’t particularly bad…

Without giving too much detail plot wise, the film acts as an “origin” story for Paddington, chronicling his journey to London and his initial encounter with the Brown family who, after some hemming and hawing from the Father (Bonneville; The Monuments Men), eventually take him to their hearts and adopt him as one of their own. Confronted with the realities of immigrant life in a mysterious new city, Paddington initially struggles with the bizarre human rituals that define modern life, but he quickly grows to feel at home, only to have his new life compromised by the machinations of a vicious taxidermist, Millicent (Kidman; Before I Go To Sleep), who wishes to stuff him and add him to her collection at the Natural History Museum.

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Children will love Paddington for its warmth and humour, and adults will appreciate it for its charm and affection, even if the jokes are split rather too heavily in favour of the younger demographic. That’s not a criticism though; it’s a children’s film, and deserves to be treated as such. The film indulges in lots of ridiculous slapstick, which grows a bit wearisome after a while, but there are also just enough witticisms and curmudgeonly put-downs from Mr Brown to keep more cynical members of the audience entertained, while Ben Whishaw (Skyfall) does a frankly marvellous job of bringing Paddington to life with a near-perfect vocal performance. The film is as predictable and silly as you might expect, and no amount of marmalade-laden nostalgia can make up for its numerous failings, but on the whole it’s a sweet, inoffensive little film that possesses what very few other films have this year; confidence, both in its beliefs and its values and in its audience to take this character to their hearts all over again.

Paddington doesn’t rewrite the rulebook or do anything particularly earth-shattering, but it’s a fun and enjoyable romp that is far funnier than a lot of the other “comedies” we’ve had to endure this year. Furthermore, it does a far better job of smacking down anti-immigrant sentiment than Ed Miliband ever has, and Nigel Farage will no doubt loathe it, so for that alone it’s alright in my book and well worth a watch. Not bad for a bear from darkest Peru, eh?