Starring Ben Whishaw, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins
Buried deep within a lot of childhoods, there lies a bear, a duffel coat and a predilection for marmalade. Generations of children have grown up with the tale of a stranger from ‘darkest’ Peru, who just so happens to be a bear, and who just so happens to be in need of a home, when he is found by the Brown family at Paddington Station. Paddington the film, therefore, had rather large red wellington boots to fill; in an age where nostalgia is king, this movie needed to remain faithful to people’s memories, yet simultaneously modern enough to capture the interest of a whole new set of little – and not-so-little – ones.
Luckily, Paul King’s sumptuous film does just that. Co-wrote and directed by King, best known for his work on The Mighty Boosh, Paddington may be lacking in the surrealism department but it is certainly overflowing when it comes to laughs, gorgeous cinematography and just the right amount of tweeness. We see our eponymous hero leave his Aunt and Uncle in Peru and wind up in London, where he meets our modern-day every-family, the Browns. Dad Henry, ably played by the ever-exasperated Hugh Bonneville, is of course dubious; whimsical Mum Mary (the perfect Sally Hawkins) is enchanted; whilst children Judy and Jonathan, (the fantastic Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin) are deliciously teenaged and refreshingly normal respectively. Paddington finds a temporary home with this odd little family, and chaos soon ensues; Mr Brown is desperate to find a certain Montgomery Clyde, an explorer who visited Paddington’s family in Peru, and who promised to look after them if they ever ventured to England. Thankfully for the plot, he may or may not exist.
King’s script, co-written with Hamish McColl, amalgamates a variety of Paddington adventures from over the years; the first book was published back in the 50s by author, and future Blue Peter camera-man, Michael Bond. Fan favourites such as Mr Gruber (a madcap Jim Broadbent) and miserable neighbour Mr Curry (Peter Capaldi, in full Celtic mode) help make the movie a nice game of spot the distinguished British actor. Indeed, it could have been even more this way had Paddington’s voice come from Colin Firth, as was the original plan. You have to agree that the decision to eventually go with Ben Whishaw instead was the right one; Paddington is a young bear, and the film revels in his naievete. Firth carries too much gravitas for such a part, whereas Whishaw has the right amount of faun-like wonder to accurately portray the character.
The film is peppered with gorgeous, clever visuals – look out for both a tree and a doll’s house in the Browns’ abode, plus the nice nod to producer David Heyman’s past work on the Harry Potter franchise (hint: it involves pictures). Homages to Mary Poppins, Mrs Doubtfire and Mission Impossible abound, and there was something almost Pratchett-esque about the inner-workings of the Geographers’ Club that Paddington and Mr Brown find themselves in. Bear and man are indeed in such a place because Paddington is threatened by the deliciously evil Millicent, played with gusto by Nicole Kidman. Kids and grown-ups alike will love the Cruella De Vil-ness of her character, who just so happens to work in the Natural History Museum. Much of the later action in Paddington takes place in and around this grand old British institution, which is doubly wonderful, the museum lending itself to some exquisite, iconic shots. Equally charming is Nick Urata’s score; the Crazy Stupid Love composer’s work also tips a hat to Heyman’s boy wizard. Watch out too for the great cameo appearances from the sublime D Lime featuring Tabago Crusoe; if they don’t make you fall in love with Paddington’s world, nothing will.
With the film itself being so great, you expect the same high standards from the DVD extras. Unfortunately, they fall a few marmalade sandwiches short of a picnic. Although we get some short interviews with cast and crew in Meet The Characters, When a Bear Comes to Stay and From Page to Screen, plus a glimpse at the promotional posters, there are no deleted scenes, no bloopers, not even any games. Paddington has cross-generational appeal, so a mix of kiddie-friendly features plus a more in-depth look at the story behind this little bear himself, or exactly how he came to computer-generated life, would have been welcome. Nevertheless, it’s worth spending a tenner or thereabouts on the DVD or Blu-Ray; this film is a love letter to London and to family life, and you will have to remind yourself at the end that bears don’t usually talk, such is the quality of the CGI. The timeline of the film may be a little perplexing; it’s supposedly forty years since a very Edwardian-looking explorer visited Peru, but it looks a lot like 2015, except no-one uses the internet. The plot may be predictable but it is also joyous, and the central message, about fitting in, getting on, and celebrating our differences, is something we should all pay more heed to.
Film 4 / 5
Extras 2 / 5