Last year’s surprise box-office smash featuring the likes of Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Peter Capaldi, and Jim Broadbent, you might be forgiven for expecting the worst – the kind of limp, cheap looking British drama sometimes put out at Christmas.
But fear not! It’s actually quite good.
The success of the movie rests entirely on the emotional appeal of the little bear – the film was mocked online when the first promotional posters appeared due to Paddington’s slightly sinister expression – heading dangerously close to ‘uncanny valley’ territory. Thankfully, the final product is completely charming – you can’t help but warm to the cute little fella – and Ben Whishaw’s voice suits perfectly. He’s the most engaging and three-dimensional CGI character since Gollum (who was also cute, in his own way).
It’s pretty standard plot and set-up, but it’s pulled off with enough class and subtlety to guarantee a few laugh-out-loud moments – the sight of a moustachioed, motorbike-riding, pre-parenthood Bonneville was a highlight for me. The Wallace and Gromit style set-pieces are great too, as Paddington flies over London with an umbrella a la Mary Poppins and surfs a bathtub down the stairs.
Many commented on the film’s accepting and welcoming attitude to a bear who is, after all, an illegal immigrant – contrasting this with certain current political populists. ‘Everyone in London is different – which means anyone can fit in’ says Paddington, as he slowly learns our strange city ways. There’s a Calypso band that pop-up throughout the movie, singing songs of London and all its glories, and Peter Capaldi’s villainous neighbour Mr Curry wants to‘send him back where he came from, before the whole family move in!’ – So the film certainly doesn’t shy away from this interpretation.
The disparity between the genteel London of Paddington’s imagination and the reality he encounters when he arrives is strangely affecting. Expecting bowler hats, elevenses and unfailing British politeness, he instead is greeted with evening rush hour at the station. A friendless newcomer to the city, doing his best to fit in to, it’s a classic trope, and his earnest little face as he tries to make sense of it all is hard to resist.
Nicole Kidman has a role as a villainous taxidermist, coveting Paddington as a future jewel of her collection. It’s a slightly unnecessary addition to the story – the best moments of the film are just watching Paddington try to adapt to our peculiar British ways. Still, it all works, and it flows along enjoyably enough.
In terms of extras its slim pickings – a few short clips looking at the challenges of bringing Paddington to life, and bringing the cast together. It would be interesting to see more of how they managed to realize Paddington – he really is a wonderful creation, and seeing the concept art and early drafts is great – but more than a few minutes would be nice.
It’s a tricky proposition, bringing such a beloved character to life – everyone will have their own memories and images of the stories. But this is a great adaptation, and is sure to please the majority of viewers.
Paddington is available to own now