PADDINGTON. Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, voice of Ben Whishaw. Directed by Paul King. 95 minutes.Rated G.
Wholly embracing the absurd premise of Michael Bond’s source books, this ‘Paddington’ adaptation updates its tale for the 21st-century, doing it with an eye to tradition, a warm heart, a strong cast of British thesps, and comedy for the whole family to enjoy.
The tale starts in a familiar fashion – a young, talking bear arrives in London from Darkest Peru, looking for a new home after leaving the idyllic life he shared with his aunt and uncle behind. He meets the Brown family, who christen him Paddington and take him in until they can find him a new home, much to the chagrin of the family’s conservative patriarch (Hugh Bonneville), who works as a risk analyst. His caution is proved wise, when Paddington floods their home after trying to use their facilities to freshen up. The bear itself, charmingly voiced by Ben Whishaw, is wonderfully realised by British visual effects company Framestore. It is largely CGI, and though this may grate fans of practical effects, they will soon by won over by the bear’s delightful antics.
Mrs Brown (Sally Hawkins) is an illustrator of children’s adventure stories, and is more inclined than her husband to believe Paddington’s story of trying to locate the explorer who visited his bear family many years ago in Peru. Their son Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) is equally excited by Paddington – as an aspiring astronaut, he loves the excitement their new friend is bringing to their lives. Their daughter Judy (Madeleine Harris) is less keen on Paddington, worried about reducing her ‘weird’ image at her new school. Living with the family also is Mrs Bird (Julie Walters), an older Scottish relative who doubles as a cleaning lady. The cast that Paul King has assembled for this film presents as a veritable who’s who of modern English film, also including Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton, Jim Broadbent and Peter Capaldi, and they evidently relish the material they are given to play with.
While Paddington and Co. continue to search for the explorer, a sinister taxidermist at a London museum (Nicole Kidman) takes note of Paddington’s arrival in town, and wants to add him as a specimen to her impressive collection. She begins trying to track him down, spurred on by a mysterious motivation from her past. Her looming presence could be the only thing keeping Paddington from finding his true home in the busy, bustling London. Kidman clearly enjoys hamming it up as a Bond-style villain, with a severe peroxide blonde bob and ridiculous gadgets to help her on her quest to stuff and mount the poor creature.
Playful and clever enough to engage kids and adults, the screenplay keeps fantastic timeless themes at its forefront, such as the importance of acceptance and looking past differences, and the centrality of family. Director King (who also wrote the script) has a background in television comedy, and it shows in his great comedic timing and mounting of several wonderful set pieces (Paddington accidentally taking down a serial pickpocket is a real highlight). His light touch avoids the ‘gritty’ aesthetic for which so many modern book adaptations strive, and the resulting feel of the film suits is fuzzy protagonist to his core. The production design from Gary Williamson is also whimsical and wonderful, utilising bright, brilliant design in the family’s home, and antique charm or mildly scary gothic influences where appropriate elsewhere.
Bright, laughter-inducing and loads of fun, ‘Paddington’ is my pick of the bunch for kids films so far this summer. A success for writer/director Paul King, it is as enjoyable to watch as it looks like it was to create for its talented team behind and in front of the camera.
Callum Ryan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out December 11.