Featuring: Paddington the bear, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, Nicole Kidman, Ben Whishaw
Director: Paul King
Screenwriters: Paul King, Hamish McColl
Movie website: www.paddington.com/gb/the-movie/
Australian release date: Thu 11 Dec
Verdict: A rare instance of technicals integrating seamlessly with art to create something approaching perfection – this is collaborative genius in action. Magical, marvellous, marmalicious!
Apparently the Paddington books were big with children in the 60s and 70s in the UK, and the Paddington teddy bears a huge merchandising success. Not so, in Australia. Although the image of the bear with the floppy hat was familiar due to an ABC TV cartoon series, the Paddington character was barely a blip on the radar of kids here. That’s about to change. In fact, if this absolute charmer of a movie puts the millions of little bums on cinema seats it deserves to, Paddington is about to become a cherished character for a generation of kids the world over, and this movie a magical and unforgettable childhood experience.
The story is simple, and built of all the right stuff: a messy, accident-prone, marmalade-loving, irresistibly endearing, talking orphaned bear hero for kids to identify with, an eccentric family who adopts him, a nasty villain, and of course an inevitably happy ending in which good triumphs over evil, with the bad guy – actually, gal – copping her just desserts in not too dire a manner. There is even a message of racial tolerance embedded, which is none too subtle but well managed and appropriate, and so brief in its overt manifestation that it is easily palatable. Actually, it’s hard to resist the compulsion to clap.
The movie opens with black-and-white archival film, the work of now deceased English explorer Montgomery Clyde, who discovered a family of intelligent bears deep in the Peruvian forest, taught them English and introduced them to the joys of marmalade. Years later, a fearful storm erupts and only little Paddington and his Aunt Lucy survives. With nothing left of his home and family, at his aunt’s urging Paddington stows away on a ship bound for London, with a huge cache of marmalade to keep him going (and provide a clever signifier of the passage of time as the empty jars stack up during the journey).
England is not the land of polite and welcoming folk Paddington anticipates, but things begin to look up when a kindly lady, Mrs Brown (a perfectly cast Sally Hawkins), notices him looking forlorn and lost at the train station (guess which one), and insists he must be put up at the family home, much to the displeasure of Mr Brown (Hugh Bonneville). Despite bringing chaos to the household through clumsiness that puts Peter Sellers at his hilarious slapstick best to shame, and misunderstanding the function of items like toothbrushes, with which he removes great plugs of wax from his ears, the family decides to adopt him – again, to the ignored protests of Mr Brown.
When Montgomery Clyde’s embittered taxidermist daughter Millicent (played with relish by Nicole Kidman) targets Paddington as a prize exhibit in her stuffed animal collection, the stage is set for a good vs evil battle in which the tension is ratcheted up while the humour that runs through the piece prevails. The only weapon that features is Millicent’s lethally aimed anaesthetic dart gun. A thrilling cartoonish chase takes the movie to its climax, and although the outcome is never in doubt, with the adorable Paddington’s life under threat the emotional stakes are sky high.
There is nothing extraordinary about the narrative per se, but it is beautifully put together, every element locking in place like a jigsaw puzzle. The dialogue, too, is brilliantly managed, as is the characterisation, and the actors thrive as a result. You get the feeling they had great fun during the shoot.
The star of this show, though, is Paddington (wonderfully voiced by Ben Whishaw). Through surely the most brilliant combination of CGI and animatronics in cinema history, he lives! This is a rare instance of technicals integrating perfectly with art to achieve something approaching perfection. It really is collaborative genius in action – as is the entire film, which gels beautifully on every level.
The adult sub-text that has become de rigueur in kids’ movies is so well integrated here that it is not really a sub-text at all, in that it speaks to both kids and adults, but in different ways. For example, a flashback showing Mr Brown’s instant transformation on the birth of his first child from youthful hellraiser on a motor bike to Volvo-driving responsible new Dad will have parents chuckling in recognition, while kids will find the contrast between the young and older Mr Browns equally amusing – the humour works for both generations, but for different reasons.
Kids of all ages (yeah, even those with grey – or no – hair) will love Paddington. It brought back the magic of film as I experienced it in childhood. There can be no higher praise than that.