Paddington Finds a Home on the Big Screen | Movie Review

Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that this frisky and good-natured take on Michael Bond’s beloved bear was produced by David Heyman of the “Harry Potter” film series. Both adaptations plant a big wet kiss on bustling, inclusive London.
  A puzzled Paddington, as seen in Paddington (The Weinstein Company)

A puzzled Paddington, as seen in Paddington. Images courtesy of The Weinstein Company

Computer-generated special imagery has come a long way from the cuddly but synthetic-looking giant bears of 2007’s The Golden Compass. Now it’s possible for filmmakers to animate the movements of a 3’6” cub in the book-to-film adaptation of Paddington and, remarkably, give him a soul. Author Michael Bond’s endearing bear from “darkest Peru,” with an insatiable appetite for marmalade, comes across quite realistically on the big screen, considering the animal speaks. Pixels have made the ephemeral almost tangible. This frisky and amicable version borrows plenty of details from Bond’s Paddington books so that the movie never feels like another animal, and it will be an appealing introduction to the character for elementary schoolers. It also contains the most important ingredient from Bond: a sense of humor, from the slapstick to the droll. As in the writer’s introductory A Bear Called Paddington, the young bear searches for a new home in a modern-day London that’s not what he’s imagined; no one says hello or wears a hat. He’s found lost and homeless in Paddington Station with a paw-written label around his furry neck (“Please look after this bear. Thank you.”) by the Brown family, and Mr. Brown cautiously agrees to let the stranger stay one night, but then he bends to his wife’s plea to allow the cub to stay longer until they can find a proper home for him. Rounding out the interspecies household are the Browns’ children, budding rocket scientist Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) and oh-so-embarrassed Judy (Madeleine Harris), as well as relative and housekeeper Mrs. Bird (Julie Walters), who runs the home like a tight ship. As in the books, the kindhearted Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) has the best intentions but doesn’t always know his way around a bathroom or kitchen; the new-to-plumbing creature almost floods the Brown’s home his first night. The humans also have eccentricity and personality to spare. (The raucous comedy gives Mr. and Mrs. Brown a brief backstory as once-hippies.) As the dad, Hugh Bonneville is more animated and witty here than he’s ever been in Downton Abbey. As Mrs. Brown, Sally Hawkins appears atypically calmer, free of her gangly mannerisms (as in Blue Jasmine). They, along with actors Peter Capaldi, as a nosy neighbor, and Walters, let loose. Nicole Kidman as Millicent (The Weinstein Company)

Nicole Kidman as Millicent

Bathed in rich reds and browns, the film builds goodwill even when it swerves in a bizarre and twisted direction. Given that Bond’s chapter books have a slender story line, the screenplay overlays (or, a curmudgeon might say, imposes) an overarching threat in the form of the rattlesnake skin–suited Millicent, played by a game Nicole Kidman in a blond Louise Brooks–bobbed wig (speaking of The Golden Compass). To put it bluntly, Millicent, the director of taxidermy, wants to kill, stuff, and display the juvenile bear in the Natural History Museum. Nevertheless, the pace breezes along; it may not be until the movie’s over that viewers will wonder about loose ends, including if Millicent drown the bound, gregarious Cockney cabbie whom she dropped in the Thames. Similarly, the film speeds through Paddington’s origin story, when his Uncle Pastuzo is killed during an earthquake. However, Bambi this is not. This film will evoke laughter, not tears. The overall buoyant mood is given a boost by the soundtrack, which features the appropriate calypso tune “London Is the Place for Me.” It was originally performed by Trinidadian singer Lord Kitchener, who was part of the postwar influx of other newcomers, Caribbean immigrants to Britain in the decade before Paddington’s first appearance in print (1958). Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that this film was produced by David Heyman of the “Harry Potter” film series. Both adaptations plant a big wet kiss on bustling, inclusive London. Just as the “Potter” tales sparked interest in the city’s landmarks, so will this movie; the exact spot on the railway platform where the Browns first meet a dejected Paddington is easily accessible. (The 88-year-old Bond appears in a street scene, glass in hand, giving a toast to the bear. Blink, and you’ll miss him.) The film celebrates a London where, according to Paddington’s uncle, there are “107 ways to say it’s raining” and where no one bats an eye at seeing a talking bear wearing a red leather hat and blue duffle coat strolling down the street or approaching Buckingham Palace—there, the film cheekily unveils what a guard keeps hidden under their tall helmets. Directed by Paul King 89 minutes Rated PG (rude and unruly adult behavior)

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