“You’ve literally just brought home a random bear.”
I remember seeing the first official teaser trailer for Paddington and laughing out loud. Colin Firth, set to play the lead character, dropped out of the film in pre-production after his voice was found miscast for the lovable little bear. So to start off all we got was a brief, unvoiced scene of Paddington sticking toothbrushes in his ears, breaking a Victorian style toilet and landing face down in the bowl. At first glance it looked awful. But that’s why we go to the movies, why we bother seeing them in the first place. We as an audience get to judge it for ourselves. And I have a hard time believing anyone could leave Paddington without a lighter heart and a skip to their step. It’s one of the best family films to come along in some time.
When you make a unique, albeit unrequired film like this one, there better be a reason behind it all. Paddington never assumes anything. Do most people remember the backstory from the books? Probably not, which is why we get a quick, effective refresher. The explorer Montgomery Clyde stumbles upon Paddington (Ben Whishaw), his Uncle Pastuzo (Michael Gambon) and Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) in the depths of a Peruvian forest. He says they’ll always have a welcome place in London should they make their way across the Atlantic. The setup is a glorious, Swiss Family Robinson adventure in the best way as the three bears swing through the tree tops, collecting fruits for their favorite treat…marmalade. But this is a kids movie, and there is a formula to be followed. A disaster must occur to push Paddington from his nest and out into the great wide foreign world.
I’ll skip the dramatic events, because honestly even though they are animated bears, it really tugs at your heart. Paddington manages to stow himself away on a boat headed for London, in hopes of finding Mr. Montgomery Clyde. The Brown family spots him at the train station, homeless, and offer him a place to stay. While they’re all in the film plenty and have some key scenes, it’s not really about them. This is Paddington’s story. We learn where he got his name, why he wears that hat, and discover that all he wants to do is find a place where he belongs. The Browns offer him that, temporarily, but they are more characters with flaws which we get to see Paddington help change. He brings the family together. Why wouldn’t he fit in? He’s brown, their name is Brown, it’s a perfect match.
And of course there’s a baddie. Has to be one. She’s Millicent Clyde (Nicole Kidman), the daughter of Montgomery. And her character was my only problem with the film. She’s insufficiently written as a weaker, less effective take on Cruella de Vil. Great films have an antagonist who shares at least one belief or trait with the main character. She’s just pure evil, which is the opposite of our good, friendly bear. Otherwise, Paddington is a complete knockout from director / writer Paul King. The bears are beautifully animated and it has the visual pop and color of a Matisse painting. It’s also unabashedly British in the best ways. This is a movie with the cornball jokes and physical humor children will devour. And it also has a surprisingly deep message that it drills home right up until the very end. There are countless definitions of the word home. Could be a planet, a community, a house. It’s a place, or even an idea, that we get to call our own, that gives us a sense of calm and an assurance of safety. It’s one of our most primitive physiological needs, and one that far too often goes unfulfilled. Paddington is the welcome mat, the door, and the first step into the home of purely fun, enjoyable cinema.
“In London, everyone is different. But that means anyone can fit in.”
Rating: 4 out of 5