Director: Paul King
Cast: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Peter Capaldi, Jim Broadbent, Imelda Staunton, Michael Gambon and Nicole Kidman
Plot: A bear (Whishaw) without a family, without a home, turns up at Paddington Station, eager to make the best out of London.
We all know the story of Paddington Bear. A well-mannered bear from Peru with an unhealthy obsession with marmalade and a kind heart turns up at a station platform one day with a sign dangling around his neck: “Please look after this bear. Thank you.” He is adopted by the Brown family and, amid chaos and hilarity, finds a loving home.
A 2014 remake seems charming enough, seeing as Paddington has got a proper cinematic story since 1997 and never on the big screen. Despite a few qualms that the big screen might clash with the delightful subtlety of Paddington’s charm, the idea was a genuinely positive one. However, it was anticipated in the same way, the likes of Peter Rabbit or Ferdinand is: it is something nice in between the better films to stick in front of the kids. No one could quite predict that it would evolve into one of the most gripping films of the year. Paul King’s direction is incredible, but never flashy. It never feels like he is trying to make anything more than a comedy about a polite bear, yet it screams excellence from most corners. Sometimes it is a scene that tells exposition from viewing the Brown household through a dollhouse. Other times it is a winning gag from a cameo performance. The jokes are fired thick and fast in this one, eager to keep the action ticking over for the younger one, but there are very few duds. The casting is superb with Ben Whishaw’s voice dreamily drifting through the animation, yet never trying too hard. Again, Whishaw simply provides the voice of a nice bear who is keen to stick to his manners, yet in not straining for anything pantomime, ends up with something universally more endearing. Much like Mark Wahlberg in the Ted movies, albeit with much less swearing and drugs, King makes sure that his non-animated human leads are not drifting to the sidelines. The entire Brown family are great here, bubbling with their own character arc and personalities. They are also not entirely exaggerated, perhaps with the exception of Julie Walters and her Scottish accent. King puts them in larger than life situations (Bonneville goes undercover as a cleaning lady, the family launch an attack on the Natural History Museum), yet they are never tempted to be anything more than a bunch of nice, British folk. Hugh Bonneville, best known for Downton Abbey, is the best of the bunch, taking every joke on the chin with little more than an expression of “this is going to annoy the neighbours!” The end result is a frantic movie, weighed down with a sense of familiarity. Like Martin Freeman’s performance in the Hobbit trilogies, sometimes quiet Britishness is simply what fuels a movie’s beating heart.
And heart this film has. Paul King invents a universe, much like our own, but very different. There are events in this film that simply wouldn’t happen in reality. For one, everyone takes the fact that a talking bear shows up in London on their chin. Bonneville, on first meeting Paddington, is less worried about him eating his family and more worried about Paddington “trying to sell him something.” This casual remark is a perfect example of Paul King’s wonderful script in action. There is, of course, the idea that Paddington usually finds his manners award him with what he is looking for. When Paddington goes to London with the simple wish, the UK will take care of him on the other end, you cannot help but feel a tinge of sadness in your heart. In the film, Paddington lands on his feet. In the real world, he would be left starving on the side of the road. A small joke about how Paddington considers sleeping on a park bench is deftly handled, not for the snigger raised, but at the heart break of how likely that joke would be to actually happening. Paul King has cleverly snuck a film about immigration under our noses and wrapped it up in a delightful family comedy. In the UK right now, good manners won’t get you anywhere on their own and the downtrodden are not looked after by our country, especially when they’ve just got off a train from Peru. Paul King is able to make us feel happiness, sadness and shame all in the space of a few jokes. That is, without a doubt, master film-making.
Final Verdict: Paddington works as a fun family adventure movie, but there is so much more bubbling beneath the surface. A wonderful picture.