Review: PADDINGTON Bears Watching
Saddled with the most cringe inducing trailer of last year, and the fact that its U.S. release got bumped into the dread month of January, Paddington, appeared positively hair brained. But, some bears cannot be judged by the coats they arrive in. Because as it turns out, Paddington, like the iconic red hat & blue overcoat wardrobe of the title character, is a colorful, well fitting pleasure.
From the book by Michael Bond, Paddington stars a small, intelligent, anthropomorphic bear, voiced lovingly by Ben Whishaw (the most recent "Q" in 007), and expressively rendered via CGI. In this world, an upright walking, talking bear is apparently not abnormal. All the more to its credit.
The world is an idealized London, a kind of liter-free and sunny tupperware colored version of itself. Paddington comes to live there when a terrible disaster sends him packing from his native land of "darkest Peru", in hopes of finding the kindhearted British explorer who once spared the lives of his family.
In the interim, he lands a temporary room with the Brown family, headed up by an uptight Hugh Bonneville and an adorable Sally Hawkins. Peter Capaldi turns up as the curmudgeonly neighbor who wants the bear gone, and Nicole Kidman turns up as the comically unrelenting villain who wants the bear dead. What's perhaps most remarkable is just how committed all of these fine actors are to this project.
Although stateside filmgoers had the testament of the film's already highly successful UK release as evidence of its quality, many nonetheless remain understandably skeptical. After all, we are talking about the film adaptation of one of the most beloved children's books for many generations. But perhaps the fact that the book is far, far more beloved in it's native England - the country of origin and setting of the story - and has indeed been so embraced now as a film ought to tell the rest of us something.
I personally have only a vague recollection of the source material, and actually recall not loving it as a kid. Yet, Paddington the movie, quite simply, works because it understands how to evoke that old English charm that is such an essential component to the story, and also how to operate as a contemporary family comedy. There's plenty of satisfying set up and pay off, not all of which seasoned viewers will likely see coming. But more than that, much of the comedy is solid and not pandering, and the characters are immensely enjoyable. All in all, I'd say that director Paul King has rather cracked this thing.
That's not to say Paddington is without its faults. Perhaps it's embellishments are a bit too predictable, and yes, it does dip into property damage comedy and pop culture references slightly too often. It's just that the faults are far less egregious than I for one ever suspected. It's a delightful comedy for all ages, bearing some healthy laughs and saying a thing or two about the value of family and even the struggles of immigration. There's no doubt: Paddington IS a marmalade sandwich of a movie. It simply turns out, however, that marmalade sandwiches can be both good and good for you. Whoda thunk it?
The film opens wide in theaters across the U.S. today.