Mark Reviews Movies

Paddington

PADDINGTON

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Paul King

Cast: Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Samuel Joslin, Madeleine Harris, Nicole Kidman, Julie Walters, Peter Capaldi, Jim Broadbent, the voices of Ben Whishaw, Imelda Staunton, Michael Gambon

MPAA Rating: PG (for mild action and rude humor)

Running Time: 1:29

Release Date: 1/16/15


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Review by Mark Dujsik | January 15, 2015

The talking bear who is named after a railway station, dons an oversized hat of red, wears a blue duffel coat, and has "a troubling marmalade habit" is a character from another time. We imagine these times, such as the one from which Paddington comes, as "simpler" ones. We don't remember so many problems in the world back then. We recall that people were more polite in those days. Paddington Bear is a good-natured, well-mannered reminder of those days, except, of course, for a few problems with that hypothesis.

Here's a little bit of perspective: Michael Bond's first book about the bear appeared for sale on October 13, 1958, and the next day, there was an underground nuclear weapon test in Nevada. "That's not fair of you to bring up something like that," you might be thinking or saying aloud. It is fair, but it also doesn't negate whatever feelings you might have about "less problematic" and "politer" days.

Those "simpler" days existed, to be sure, but they certainly didn't exist in the big picture of society, the world, or humanity. They did and—here's the important part—continue to exist in the smaller pictures of parents holding a book and sitting on a bedside as their children start to doze under the covers, or of children lying in bed with their head nestled in the arm of a parent, trying to look at the pictures of the story they're hearing. That's the world Paddington Bear represents, and Paddington understands that.

The film is, above all, a pleasant story about a nice bear who causes more problems than he knows how to mend. He's an innocent in a world that has changed in certain ways but that has remained fixed for the most part.

The Brown family, which takes in Paddington (voice of Ben Whishaw) after finding him at Paddington Station in London, isn't unanimously thrilled with the idea. Mr. Brown (Hugh Bonneville), the father, thinks it's a scam of some kind—that Paddington's story of stowing away on a ship from "darkest Peru" and not having any place to call home is just a manipulative sob story meant to con him out of some of his money. Judy (Madeleine Harris), the daughter, finds the prospect of a bear living in her house embarrassing beyond belief. What will the kids at school think?

Meanwhile, Jonathan (Samuel Joslin), the son, is excited to have some small form of adventure in a house with rigid rules about safety, which have been informed by his father's conservative ways (not just politically). Mrs. Brown (Sally Hawkins), the mother, performs the act of kindness toward a poor, unfortunate, and homeless bear as an unthinking reflex.

Whether Bond's books portrayed Paddington's adoptive family as one divided or united about their ward is a detail lost in the foggy memories of childhood. Either way, director Paul King's screenplay gives half of the family the cynical edge that makes this a "modern" adaptation of the Paddington stories. It's not a given that a middle-class family would take in a homeless bear, despite Paddington's aunt Lucy (voice of Imelda Staunton) assuring the young bear that the British people took in orphaned and homeless children and treated those children as their own during a great war many years ago. Let us take the skepticism of two of the Browns as the overriding outlook that marks present-day society.

A good part of the film's charm is that, even in the face of this cynicism, Paddington remains unchanged (although he does have a CG make-over that makes him a believable player). He believes that people are essentially good, but he isn't afraid to give them one of his aunt's patented "hard stares" if they temporarily forget their manners. He keeps an emergency marmalade sandwich in his hat for emergencies but isn't too selfish to break off a piece of bread for a hungry pigeon (He also learns from his mistake when a flock of the birds suddenly appears after his act of generosity). Paddington destroys the Browns' bathroom in an amusing sequence of slapstick comedy, but it's just an accident. He's incredibly sorry for the misunderstanding, and he hopes he can make it up to them in some way.

The film doesn't treat Paddington as a joke (It does have a sense of humor in that wry, British way, and even the few jokes about bodily functions are cleverly innocuous), and it is as sincere as the character when it comes to his ways and attitude. He's a hopeless optimist, and there is a sense of wonder to his ordinary travels and of innocence in his blundering misadventures.

Take a sequence in which he attempts to return a wallet to a pickpocket, believing that it's the thief's and not one that he's stolen. It escalates in silliness, with Paddington riding a skateboard and eventually parasailing from a bus while wearing a novelty constable's hat with a siren, but the purity of his intentions in the setup and the inadvertent justice of the payoff turn the sequence into an off-beat piece of character development. Even when he's making a mistake, Paddington can't help but do the right thing.

There is a dark cloud hanging over some of the film in the form of Millicent (Nicole Kidman), an obsessed taxidermist who wants to turn Paddington into a museum exhibit, and the sinister implications of her methods. It's a miscalculation, if only because Paddington doesn't need a traditional antagonist. If there is one here, it's a mindset that doesn't instantly recognize the bear's virtues—one that might, for example, cram a villain into his story. Paddington overcomes the obstacle with kindness, and so too does Paddington.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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