Paddington (Cert PG)
1 Disc (Distributor: Studio Canal) Running Time: 95 minutes approx.
Those of us of a certain vintage no doubt cringed a little when the news came that a CGI film of Michael Bond’s creation was in production. Hollywood doesn’t have much of an impressive track record in this area so could we Brits do any better? After all, the stop motion animated TV adventures of the marmalade loving, blue duffle coat and red hat wearing Peruvian bear in his cardboard cut-out world, accompanied by the laconic narration of Sir Michael Horden, was a beloved staple of our childhood.
It is then to some relief we find that director Paul King and his crew have in fact successfully given Paddington a modern day upgrade, while keeping some of the charm from the original stories and aforementioned TV show to enchant us old fogies as well as introducing a brand new audience to Peru’s other popular (and more legal) export.
The film begins some thirty years before the main story in which a geographer named Montgomery Clyde (Tim Downie) discovers a pair of bears he named Pastuzo and Lucy (voiced by Michael Gambon and Imelda Staunton) who were partially civilised and could speak basic English – and had a craving for marmalade. Clyde’s parting words to the bears was to visit him in London one day. That day came when an earthquake wrecks their home but with Pastuzo and Lucy both elderly, they send their nephew (voiced by Ben Whishaw) to London on a boat for his safety.
Not knowing Clyde’s name – the only connection he has is Clyde’s hat which Pastuzo gave him – the bear arrives in London where he encounters the Brown family who take him in. Unable to pronounce his bear name, Mrs. Brown (Sally Hawkins) names him Paddington after the train station they found him on. Against the wishes of Mr. Brown (Hugh Bonneville) the family take Paddington home and let him stay with them while they help him find Mr. Clyde.
A rather straightforward plot for this exuberant family film which hits the ground running from the opening scene, and while it keeps things light for the most part there is the dread crisis subplot which adds a darker tone to the proceedings. This involves a devious taxidermist Millicent (Nicole Kidman in the now obligatory Hollywood concession role) whose interest in Paddington’s arrival is rather unhealthy and potentially problematic for the Peruvian immigrant. Nothing is overly horrific but Kidman’s Cruella De Vil persona and occasional threatening verbiage make might concern some of the very junior members of the audience.
The first thing that is notable for those of us familiar with the 70’s TV show is the obvious fluidity of the movements of the CGI bear compared to the jaunty stop motion version. This is not a big issue since it should be this way but it changes much of Paddington’s personality by being so much more active. What this does do however is afford him to become embroiled in a number of extravagant and ambitious physical slapstick hijinks, an effective mixture of Tom & Jerry and Mr. Bean.
Much of the humour is derives from the simplest of sources, such as Paddington’s rote manner of talking to people or his struggle to acclimatise to this strange new world. From escalators to sellotape, everything is both a mystery and a catalyst for calamity for the curious bear while one can’t help but marvel at how everyone accepts this talking bear without the slightest reservation or sense of wonderment, but then again their amazement would be a joke that would wear very thin very quickly.
Bearing the legend “from the producers of Harry Potter” might conjure up (pardon the pun) ideas of an extravagant production values and other incongruent interferences which may threaten to ruin this experience and reduce to a style over substance affair, but King integrates these flash embellishments quite naturally – after all this is a story of a talking bear. Some work quite well in dealing with exposition, such as the dollhouse effect when introducing the Brown family, yet a sense of normality is maintained throughout.
Unquestionably the greatest special effects achievement in this film by a country mile is Paddington himself. A combination of CGI and animatronics, he is one of the most natural moving and realistically rendered characters ever seen, an absolute triumph of both the technological advances and the study of movement and nuanced reactions. Whether his fur is wet or dry, or his face is happy, sad or angry no detail has been left underdeveloped and it pays dividends for both the animators and the viewers alike. The end result is that everyone treats Paddington like a human being, audience included!
Ben Whishaw was not the original choice to play Paddington, replacing Colin Firth in a highly publicised development when it was decide Firth’s voice was not suitable. As it transpires, this was the right call, as Whishaw’s gentle tone is a perfect fit for bringing out the earnest humanity in this cuddly character, and the subtle inflections of his wonderment at his new surroundings and his ever expanding catalogue of chaos.
Supporting him on the human front we have an all star British cast of reliable veterans such as Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins as the Browns, along with Julie Waters as eccentric house keeper Mrs. Bird. Peter Capaldi plays the creepy spendthrift neighbour while Jim Broadbent pops up as a German antiques expert. Nicole Kidman seems to enjoy being the cartoon villain and hams it up for all she is worth.
It’s difficult to find any true fault with Paddington – other than the final act being a bit rushed – so it is a pleasure to say that this is one modern update of a classic character that has been done correctly. A genuine feel good family treat and a future Christmas Day TV staple without a doubt.
5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
2.0 Stereo LPCM
Meet The Characters
From Page To Screen
When A Bear Comes To Stay
Rating – ****
Man In Black