WRITTEN REVIEW – Paddington (2014)
Directed by: Paul King
Written by: Paul King & Hamish McColl
Starring: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Nicole Kidman & Peter Capaldi
Music: Nick Urata
Release Date: December 28th 2014
Regular viewers/readers will know that I’ve been dreading ‘Paddington’ for a long time. The initial posters raised my expectations but the gross-out trailer and emphasis on slapstick in the marketing made me very apprehensive. But now, it gives me great pleasure to announce that ‘Paddington’ is a brilliant movie for all the family and a must-see flick for the holiday season.
‘Paddington’ follows the basic set-up laid out in Michael Bond’s original book series (which started in the late 1950s) and follows the origin story of Paddington (voiced by Whishaw), a bear from the jungles of darkest Peru. After tragedy strikes his home, he’s sent to London via boat looking for a new family. Once there, he’s taken in by the Brown family, led by the disapproving, safety-conscious father, Henry (Bonneville) and the caring and open Mary (Hawkins) who promise to look after Paddington until they can find him a proper home.
The main differences from the source material comes in the form of an explorer who visited Peru and met Paddington’s family and taught them about the wonders of London and Marmalade – teachings that would be passed down to the young bear whilst growing up. This explorer promised the bears that if they ever wanted to visit London then they’d be more than welcome. It’s with this starting point where Paddington Bear finds his place in the 21st century and the movie ‘Paddington’ reveals itself to not only be a fiercely well thought-out film, but also a pessimistic look at our anti-immigration culture.
In a parallel that ‘Paddington’ draws direct attention to, during the 1940s when the UK, along with the rest of the world, was at war (and still fresh in the mind of Michael Bond whilst writing Paddington Bear in the first place), children would be dropped off at train stations across the country to be taken in by strangers. It was a time where a much-needed act of kindness from strangers would be the rule rather than the exception. However, we now live in a time where there are countless procedures to follow, where there are those who are against anyone from a foreign land coming onto our British soil and that those people who do come to the UK hoping for a better life are ignored or met with scorn. When Paddington first arrives at Paddington station at King’s Cross in London, despite being a bear he’s ignored and pushed aside due to the hurried nature of the commute. When Henry Brown first sees Paddington at the station, he whispers to his family “Stranger Danger. Keep your eyes down, there’s some sort of bear over there. He’s probably selling something.”. When Paddington announces that if he can’t find a home he’ll have to sleep in a bin, Henry STILL tries to ignore him.
These very topical parallels to modern culture (how many times have YOU pleaded ignorance to seeing someone sleeping on the streets?) is not only where ‘Paddington’ finds its brains, but also its heart. Throughout the movie, there’s an African band playing exotic music wherever Paddington goes (they’re NOT a Peruvian pan flute band). The band members are clearly not of this country, but their presence livens up the streets of London far more than the citizens, who stride the streets and ignore communication with their neighbours.
But before I risk getting too caught-up in sub-text and political theming, let’s get back on point. Many were concerned when Colin Firth, who was originally meant to be providing Paddington’s voice, dropped out of the project. However, his replacement, Ben Whishaw imbues the character with a naivety and youthful energy that I doubt Firth would have been able to incorporate. Paddington is an incredibly likeable protagonist and Whishaw’s voice and line delivery really helps viewers gain an emotional connection to a CGI bear. Even when the film stumbles with over-the-top slapstick (more on that later), Paddington’s facial expressions are right on point. As out of place as the toilet sequence is, the way Paddington looks at the door to make sure he’s not being watched before using the toothbrush is a nice beat in the scene, as well as the way his eyes dart when he’s hanging from the top of the toilet. It’s hardly ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ motion-capture quality in terms of visual fidelity, but there’s real warmth and humanity behind Paddington’s eyes and the abstraction of the direction by Paul King really helps viewers open up to the creature.
That’s the other thing, the trailers aren’t selling this aspect of the movie, but it’s surprisingly well directed with brilliant production design. The centrepiece of the Brown house is a spiral staircase with a blossom tree painted on the wall behind it, but as the movie goes on, the colour of the foliage changes to reflect the mood of the characters in the house. You can tell that it’s by the same production team as the Harry Potter movies due to touches like this (like how Alfonso Cuarón would use the Whomping Willow in ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ as a visual cue to the audience for when the seasons changed) as well as using the model house in the attic of the Brown house to give the audience an insight into their daily routine. Great visual quirks are found in almost every scene (The “Lost and Found” sign at Paddington Station springs to mind) and makes ‘Paddington‘ a dynamic film that can easily engage viewers of all ages. ‘Paddington‘ also resembles the Harry Potter movies with its brilliant English cast. The young actors playing the children of the Brown family are great, Hugh Bonneville has brilliant comedic timing and undergoes the most interesting arc of the movie and Sally Hawkins is always great in roles that extenuate her caring nature and innocent demeanour.
In supporting roles we also have Julie Walters and Jim Broadbent (it’s a British Film. Of course it’s going to star those two) who do wonders with small but important characters. Peter Capaldi is memorable as the grumpy neighbour, Mr. Curry, who wants the bear gone and while he does so much more with the role than the script requires of him, it feels like Mr. Curry needed one more scene to truly wrap up his arc. It’s Nicole Kidman, however, that surprises here channelling Cruella de Vil as the villain who wants to kidnap Paddington for her taxidermy collection. She completely lets loose, but in a very understated way (if that makes any sense) and she winds up being one of the most interesting villains of 2014. Matt Lucas, Simon Farnaby, Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton and Matt King round out probably the best ensemble casts in a British film all year.The main flaw with ‘Paddington’ is what I was afraid it would be, as there are sequences that feel completely out of place with the source material. While the toilet scene heavily promoted in the trailers does feature and works slightly better in context, Paddington Bear flooding the entire room and riding the bath down the spiral staircase on a tidal wave simply is not Paddington Bear. It’s more akin to Yogi Bear and while it speaks volumes about the quality of the movie that Paddington Bear does what Yogi Bear does better than Yogi Bear…it’s STILL not Paddington.
Another example has Paddington spot a pickpocketer after he’s stolen someone’s wallet. The criminal drops the wallet and Paddington, unaware that it’s been stolen, runs after him trying to return it. THAT is Paddington Bear. Paddington then tripping on a skateboard, riding the board down a steep hill, grabbing onto a leash that drags him down a busy London Street by a double-decker bus before flying through the skies using the momentum and wind whilst holding onto an Umbrella….that is NOT Paddington Bear.
Thankfully, these sequences are few and far between, but when they do happen, they’re very prominent. It feels like ‘Paddington’ would be a superior and more faithful adaptation without them, despite them being well filmed and entertaining when taken out of the context of the franchise-umbrella.
But like I said, the fact that ‘Paddington’ can survive these out-of-place sequences and still be engaging and enjoyable speaks for the quality of the movie. ‘Paddington’ is an immensely cheerful and incredibly enjoyable movie with real heart and soul coursing through it stylish veins. The old-fashioned nature of the character coupled with the dynamics of modern-day really give the character a voice in these racially-charged times and I NEVER thought I’d say anything like that after watching a trailer where Paddington licked his own ear-wax. It’s sequences like that which do drag ‘Paddington’ down slightly, but taken as a whole, ‘Paddington’ is the best live-action family movie I’ve seen all year and I whole-heartedly recommend it. I’d love to see ‘Paddington’ be financially successful, not just because I’d enjoy seeing future sequels set in this universe, but because I honestly believe that the next generation of UK citizens would be in safe hands if they all took on board the moral of ‘Paddington’.
“It doesn’t matter that Paddington’s a different species or that he has a worrying Marmalade habit! Paddington is family.”
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Posted: 8th Dec 14