by Coop Cooper
I remember reading “Paddington Bear” picture books as a kid. I recall being mildly amused by the bear in the hat and overcoat but as an adult I couldn’t possibly imagine a live-action adaptation would be entertaining for both parents and children. Surprisingly, “Paddington” proved me wrong and I’m very pleased to say it surprised me nearly as much as “The Lego Movie” did last year.
While on an expedition in Peru, British explorer Montgomery Clyde discovers a gentle species of intelligent bears. He teaches them the ways of English life, how to speak English and most importantly, how to make orange marmalade. Years later, the bears’ habitat is destroyed by an earthquake and the youngest male (voiced by Ben Whishaw who is the new ‘Q’ of the James Bond films) is smuggled upon a boat to London to search for Clyde because he once promised them help if they ever needed it. Once in London, he is taken in by the kindly Brown Family who name him “Paddington” after the train station they found him in. As with any bear who wanders into the center of civilization, hijinks ensue much to the chagrin of the Brown Family’s risk-averse patriarch (Dowton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville). Through Paddington’s kind and heroic nature, he begins to win everyone over except for the evil taxidermist Millicent (Nicole Kidman) who wants Paddington stuffed in her trophy room.
This film’s boasts an impressive all star cast. Nicole Kidman almost completely steals the show, playing her villainous role so straight and creepy, you would swear her character was straight out of a James Bond movie (I even suspect Pussy Galore was something of an inspiration for her performance). However, Hugh Bonneville manages to upstage her playing completely against type in the second half of the film in some zany comedic scenes, even dressing up in drag for one of them. His ‘adventure-loving hippie’ backstory provided for one of the biggest laughs in the film. Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Imelda Staunton (voice), Michael Gambon (voice), Jim Broadbent and Peter (Doctor Who) Capaldi all make an appearance, providing either comedic or dramatically moving performances.
There are so many fun moments in this film… Bonneville’s transition from stuffy dad to hero, Walters drinking a security guard under the table, Kidman’s “Mission Impossible” Tom Cruise impression, Paddington’s clever use of ‘dustbuster’ vacuums, the running gag with the pigeons and Kidman’s final “Anything but that!!!” punishment.
While the tone is undeniably silly, it is also clever, charming, funny and heartwarming. There are many moments where Paddington’s life is in danger but nothing a kid couldn’t handle. In fact, the film I would most compare this to is “E.T. The Extraterrestrial” but to a lighter degree. There is a small amount of crude humor (burps, earwax eating, drinking toilet water, etc…) and while the dry British humor is present, the film mines all types of humor, even the intellectual kind. There were several times where I found myself laughing a few seconds after I had time to process a cleverly delivered zinger. Plentiful amounts of slapstick fill in the rest.
Although “Paddington” was released in the United Kingdom in November, it is a shame this film couldn’t be released in America before Christmas. Dumping it into a January time slot doesn’t do it any favors as that is traditionally the worst month to release a film. Hopefully it will stay in theaters long enough to find an audience since “American Sniper” is getting all the attention and the box office dollars at the moment. If you’re looking for a movie for you kids (especially one that you have to sit through yourself) you can’t go wrong with “Paddington”. It has been out since mid-January so catch it quickly before it’s gone.
4 out of 5 stars.