After a fatal earthquake destroys his home in the rainforests of Peru, a young bear (Ben Whishaw) makes his way to London in search of a new home. The bear, dubbed “Paddington,” finds shelter with the family of Henry (Hugh Bonneville) and Mary Brown (Sally Hawkins). Although Paddington’s amazement at urban living soon endears him to the Browns, someone else has her eye on him: taxidermist Millicent Clyde (Nicole Kidman) has designs on Paddington’s rare Peruvian hide.
With this pretty straightforward premise I wasn’t expecting too much from Paddington.
But after I spent week in London (for a trip to interview the cast of The Hobbit and Birdman), and watched the film in a theatre at Leicester Square, Paddington struck several chords with me, and made me tear up on more than one occasion, as well as laugh out loud for most of the proceedings. It’s very funny.
Similar to Alexander…( and etc) this film, like Skynet, is self-aware, and lets us have a laugh at many of the set-ups, so that we may more easily swallow the notion of a Peruvian Forest Bear stowing away to England as easily as he swallows unlimited on jars of marmalade. It’s not much of a stretch to add to this that he is taken in (albeit reluctantly) by an English family who find him alone at Paddington Tube Station.
Sally Hawkins is absolutely fantastic as Mrs Brown – an empathetic, hippy Mum – who against the wishes of her family, convinces them to take him home, if only for one night, because it’s “the right thing to do”.
Cue Paddington’s first spectacular slapstick extravaganza, as he fails to grasp the fundamentals of the English bathroom – “The Facilities”, and floods the entire house, even as Mr Brown (a risk analyst) is on the phone to the insurance company making sure that they are covered in the event of a bear-related mishap.
As you might expect from a man with his job description, he’s obsessed with averting any danger to the family, and this allows him to deliver some memorable lines as he discourages his son from behaving like the boy that he is – “Don’t jump Jonathon – jumping is responsible for 7% of accidents involving children”, and “Don’t slide down the banister Jonathon – banisters are linked to over 40% of broken bones”.
There’s a beautiful flashback scene that reveals he, and Mrs Brown, were once carefree rebels, but it’s following the birth of their first child that he trades in his motorcycle for a Volvo, and they start off down the path to being “boring and annoying”.
Because the film is willing to poke so much fun at itself, the emotional moments really pay off, and the characterisation of Paddington is simply gorgeous.
The film’s classification as a PG title has attracted some attention, but it’s spot on the money as some scenes may require a squeeze of Mum or Dad’s hand, if only for a second.
The climactic finale at The Natural History Museum in London allows Mr Brown to prove to his family, and himself that he’s capable of more than what we’ve come to expect from him. It also lets Nicole Kidman ham it up in a delicious, villainous fashion.
There’s plenty for the adults to enjoy along with kids probably 14 and under, and throw in those folk who grew up with the delightful books by Michael Bond, and Paddington is a sure-fire film the whole family will love.