If I was given the choice to welcome a talking, lost, charming and polite bear into my home and allow it to stay for undetermined amount of time, I would immediately say yes. How could anyone not? Then again, we live in a fast paced modern age where getting from point A to point B is the focal point of our lives when not consumed by small computer devices that bathe our faces in distracting blue light. Yet, when the innocent and marmalade starved bear makes his way to London where all bears are welcomed with a friendly greeting, he’s ignored, hit with briefcases and bags and has to fend off a group of rowdy pigeons all looking for a piece of his emergency sandwich.
Life outside of ‘Darkest Peru’ where this talking bear hails from is not what was promised however the bear that would go one to be named Paddington (Ben Whishaw), after the train station, is full of optimism that some family will happily adopt him and treat him like their own. But back in ‘Darkest Peru’, where this story by-writer-director Paul King begins, Paddington lives with his Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) and Uncle Pastuzo (Michael Gambon).
Based on the popular book series and character by Michael Bond, Paddington opens several years prior on a jungle expedition led by Montgomery Clyde (Tim Downie). On this expedition that includes a grandfather clock and a piano, Clyde discovers these intelligent bears with an affinity for marmalade. After the time jump, both Lucy and Pastuzo have put together an intricate method for producing the addictive food that can supply bears with enough vitamins and minerals for a day. And somehow these bears have created a massive amount of marmalade preserves in mason jars. In Peru.
Never mind how the bears learned physics to construct an assembly line in the middle of the jungle but where did they come across all of these empty jars? Its but one of many continuously hilarious moments that can be found throughout the 95 minute runtime as Paddington quickly learns to assimilate in a modern society. Giving Paddington that chance is the Brown family – Henry (Hugh Bonneville), Mary (Sally Hawkins), Judy (Madeleine Harris), and Jonathan (Samuel Joslin). Mary instantly agrees to take Paddington in while Henry cautiously remains skeptical about bringing in a wild animal into their carefully constructed home.
Once Paddington crosses the threshold of the Brown family house, everything changes both for the individual members of the Brown Family and for Paddington. King’s script allows viewers both young and old to be completely engrossed in Paddington’s journey to a better life. A script filled to the brim of the jar with bear puns galore, delightfully heartwarming moments and witty dialogue – all balanced out evenly. There’s even a delightfully silly pun when a GPS says to ‘bear left’ and cinematographer Erik Wilson pans the camera over to capture a bear on the left hand side.
But Paddington isn’t all fun, games and marmalade – though a majority of the film does feature all three of these things simultaneously and does it well enough to stay engaging for all age groups. Among the hijinks and shenanigans Paddington gets himself into, the bear also finds himself in a bit of trouble as often as he’s learning to fit in. After learning of his existence, a taxidermist named Millicent (Nicole Kidman) makes it her mission to capture Paddington with the aid of the Browns nosey neighbor Mr. Curry (Peter Capaldi). Not to worry, Paddington is never truly alone when targeted by Millicent (nor is he in any real danger).
As the story progresses and Paddington becomes more comfortable in his new home, King on several occasions catches us up with the Brown family, giving much needed depth to the supporting characters. And toward the end, what we learn early on, gets paid off by the end of the story. Paddington being around brings the best out of every member of the Brown family.
To the younger viewer, the computer generated animation of Paddington and the sense of humor will be enough to keep their attention while King fills his script with plenty to make an older viewer more than amused at the lighthearted tone. Within Paddington are a multitude of themes – a sense of identity and belonging being the most prominent. King even casually throws in a sentiment on immigration and how foreigners from different places are treated. Even further for that theme, some locals are even treated how foreigners are – we all would rather be left alone than to have to fake being polite to a stranger.
The ensemble cast supporting Whishaw are fully of energy but its Kidman’s devious villain who steals the spotlight during her limited screentime. Elsewhere, Hugh Bonneville has a standout moment while Sally Hawkins is a ray of sunshine.
Paddington in one word is a delight. One of those rare gems of a story that doesn’t get told as often as it should, having a universal appeal from top to bottom – especially with its heartwarming tone and messages of belonging and family. As the lovable, fluffy bear, Ben Whishaw brings the essence of the beloved character to life with a soft spoken childlike innocence and wonder added to the character. The Brown home rips a page out of Wes Anderson’s playbook – colors are crisp, bright and the production design is so clean, anyone can enjoy a jar or delicious marmalade off the floors when the bathroom isn’t being flooded. Just don’t use the toothbrushes anymore, they’re for ear cleaning only.
Story By: Hamish McColl & Paul King
Screenplay By: Paul King
Directed By: Paul King
Music By: Nick Urata
Cinematography: Erik Wilson
Starring: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Madeleine Harris, Samuel Joslin, Peter Capaldi, Imelda Staunton, Michael Gambon, Nicole Kidman
Edited By: Mark Everson
Release Date: November 28, 2014
Running Time: 1 Hour 35 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Based On: Paddington Bear by Michael Bond