Enchanting Paddington a Bear-Sized Wonder
A Peruvian bear has come to London at the urging of his Aunt Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton) and his Uncle Pastuzo (voiced by Michael Gambon) hoping to find the gregarious, kindhearted explorer (Tim Downie) who visited his family’s jungle decades prior. At the train station, he is befriended by illustrator Mary Brown (Sally Hawkins) and much to the worry of her risk analyst husband Henry (Hugh Bonneville), the delight of youngest son Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) and revulsion of teenage daughter Judy (Madeleine Harris) the furry visitor is immediately invited into their home. Nicknamed Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw), the Browns slowly come to think of the friendly bear as part of their family, all of them going above and beyond as they try to track down the explorer as well as help him assimilate into everyday British life.
I’m not entirely sure Paddington, adapted from the works of creator Michael Bond, could be any more delightful than it actually is, the film as divine a piece of family entertainment as any I could have fantasized about. A loving homage to the source material as well as a decidedly modern frolic into openhearted wonder and bliss, director and co-writer Paul King (Bunny and the Bull), working alongside fellow scribe Hamish McColl (Johnny English Reborn), constructing a terrific sophomore effort that starts 2015 off on a rhapsodic high.
The film is as simple as it is lovely, the majority nothing more than a very British foray into London life as seen through the eyes of a total innocent. It folds Paddington into the lives of the Brown family with remarkable, confidently self-assured ease, seeing how each of them comes to regard the inquisitive bear as a member of the clan the primary joy the story offers up. It’s a coming of age slice of familial longing and acceptance, the way Mary, Henry, Judy and Jonathan – as well as longtime housekeeper Mrs. Bird (Julie Walters) – evolve arguably the most surprising, and life-affirming, aspect that drives the narrative forward.
There is a subplot involving mysterious London Museum of Natural History employee Millicent (Nicole Kidman), and it does add a moderately hard edge to the proceedings, but in many ways it isn’t particularly necessary other than to allow for a hint of danger as far as Paddington’s survival is concerned. King takes these sequences about as seriously as an average old school episode of “Scooby-Doo,” which considering the calm, controlled and relatively reserved nature of the rest of the piece this is exactly as it should be. In an odd sort of way this detachment towards Millicent’s nefarious designs only makes the connection between the bear and the Browns stronger, cementing their bonds in ways virtually guaranteed to make young and old alike grin from ear to ear.
All of the actors are wonderful, but Hawkins and Bonneville are particularly superb. Their interplay with the CG-created Paddington is believably lifelike, remarkably tender, both performers treating the material and their respective roles within it with total seriousness. More than that, they make a stunning pair of parents, their give-and-take having a believably complex warmth to it that speaks to the heart of parenthood and marriage with striking modesty. They both generate laughs and tears with shocking effortlessness, Bonneville’s climactic declarations particularly profound in ways that struck me right in the heart.
Technical facets are marvelous all-around, the animation engineers – along with Whishaw’s superb vocal work – charged with bringing the title character to life doing a stupendous job. The movie also looks sublime, Erik Wilson’s (Tyrannosaur) cinematography, Mark Everson’s (Alan Partridge) editing and Gary Williamson’s (Submarine) production design all magnificent. I was also taken with Nick Urata’s (What Maisie Knew) elegant score, the veteran composer adding just the right melody to each and every scene none of his music feeling intrusive or out of place.
I’m still more than a little stunned Paddington is as tremendous as it is. While not your typical January release by any stretch of the imagination (the film has been playing abroad since late November of 2014), that still doesn’t make it any less a revelation. King’s film is a grand achievement that does both the character as well as his creator all kinds of justice, in the end reminding us all that, sometimes, it’s nice having a bear about the house or, in this case, residing comfortably within the friendly confines of one’s friendly neighborhood movie theater.
Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 3.5 out of 4