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Following the success of the Harry Potter film series, producer David Heyman has been spreading his wings, producing movies like Gravity and Testament of Youth. Now he has found another series of British children books, Michael Bond’s Paddington Bear, to adapt and with director/co-writer Paul King, gives us a delightful treat for the whole family.
In Deepest, Darkest Peru an explorer (Tim Downie) for the Royal Geographic Society discover a species of highly intelligent bears. The explorer teaches them English, shows them the delights of marmalade, which gives a bear all the vitamins they need and offers them a place to stay if they ever go to London. Many years later the bears are old and they have an excitable if accident prone nephew (Ben Whishaw). After an Earthquake devastates their forest the young bear goes to London to find the explorer when he is taken in by the Brown family after finding him alone on Paddington train station – despite Mr. Brown’s (Hugh Bonneville) objections. As the family searches for the explorer, the curator of the Natural History Museum, Millicent (Nicole Kidman) is determined to make the bear into an exhibit when she hears rumors that the bear is in London.
Paddington is great family entertainment, being able to please adults and children, fans of books and newcomers. King, and co-writer Hamish McColl, keep the characteristics that make Paddington such a loveable character and transport him to the 21st Century. There is plenty of slapstick humor due to Paddington being accident prone and being unaccustomed to live with modern appliances and behaviors. There are big set pieces throughout as Paddington causes havoc in the Brown household, on the streets and in government buildings. There is the occasional gag aimed solely at children, but for the most part the physical humor is broad.
It is not just a physical and visual comedy, Paddington has some great dialogue and jokes. The humor is quirky and very British with many of the jokes being about British and English culture and general Britishness. A particular favorite are jokes about the rain because it is true people in Britain will talk about the weather. And like the slapstick humor that is aimed at children. There are verbal jokes for adults, which are still clean and there are references to movies like Mission: Impossible and Indiana Jones.
Paddington is Paul King’s most mainstream effort to date, his previous work efforts being the indie comedy Bunny and the Bull and cult TV series The Mighty Boosh. He had to make a more family friendly, approachable movie, but his surreal direction and quirky, off-beat sense of humor is ever presence throughout the movie. King’s style is showcased in the movie, from the newsreel to dream sequences to visualising events around the house using a doll house to show events in the Brown house. There are many visual flourishes throughout the movie used for dramatic and comic effect and acts as a showcase of London.
At times Paddington plays like a live-action Aardman movie, mixing great set-pieces like the chase on Portobello Road and excellent verbal jokes that appeal to all ages. It is a treat if you are a fan of Aardman’s work. Some parts of the story share a similarity with Pixar’s Up, though going into more details risks spoilers for both movies.
Though Paddington is a very funny movie, its actual story and plot points are extremely predictable: it is standard screenwriting. One character even spells out the theme that the family need Paddington as much as he needs them. The twists have been done before and it is very simple on that level. The people of London seem very relaxed about a small bear with the ability to speak walking around a major city.
King and Heyman assemble a talented cast of mostly British actors, Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Peter Capaldi and Kidman. Ben Whishaw replaced Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington and he was a better fit, having a youthful voice, being very polite and occasionally overwhelmed, though he has terrible table manners. Kidman was having fun as the villainess with her abilities with climbing ropes and a tranquilizer gun. It is strange to hear the very Scottish Capaldi speak in a London accent.
There was a minor controversy in the UK that Paddington earned a PG rating instead of a U (the British equivalent to the G rating) because of sexual innuendo. All it was is some minor flirting, nothing more.
Paddington is a funny movie that will please the young and old alike and it would not be surprising that we will see more of the bear in his red hat and blue duffle coat. A must see if you are a lover of all things British.