Cast: Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters
Director: Paul King
Running Time: 95 mins
Verdict: A lovely beginning.
Paddington was a creation of the 1950s, but the story of this polite, accident-prone bear from the depths of Peru has translated nicely into the present day. With a slightly retro and eccentric approach to production design, comical performances and family themes, Paddington is a mix of messages delivered with fun and heart.
This is, in part, Paddington's origin story. Writers have fleshed out a colourful backstory to author Michael Bond's original tale of how Paddington ended up as a stowaway on a ship to London. We begin in Peru where we meet his aunt Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton) and uncle Pastuzo (Michael Gambon), learn about their experiences with an early English explorer, and see the impact a natural disaster has on Paddington's life.
All this adds to the poignancy of a lonely figure standing on the platform at Paddington Station with a tag around his neck, pleading, "Please look after this bear."
This scene, a reference to child evacuees during World War II, and Paddington's discovery and taking in by the Brown family, brings the film back in line with Bond's original book, A Bear Called Paddington.
Director Paul King nicely balances the old with the new, and sensibly hasn't messed with memorable moments or the core of Bond's characters. There are also plenty of chaotic physical comedy scenes as Paddington adapts to plumbing, escalators and gas ovens.
Initial reviews that the computer-generated Paddington looks creepy are unfounded. The animation is full of expression and smooth movement, and allows Paddington to fit seamlessly into his new surroundings while Ben Whishaw's pleasant voice delivers an utterly likeable Paddington, complete with wide-eyed curiosity and lovely manners.
The Brown family are equally likeable. Sally Hawkins is delightful as the quirky and emotional Mrs Brown, and Downton Abbey's Hugh Bonneville, while again cast as an uptight, overly protective father, gets to show his comedic chops. Julie Walters gets all the good lines as a distant relative and housekeeper, while the Brown kids are a touch more sassy than the originals.
Everyone delivers their characters with exaggerated enthusiasm, and it seems perfectly normal that a rare bear would live with a middle-class British family.
• Read more: Paddington bears his soul on fame
Hamming it up are new additions to the story: Nicole Kidman, as an evil museum taxidermist, and her sidekick, Peter Capaldi (Doctor Who). They add some action and suspense, and though a little silly are the catalyst that brings the Brown family together in realising how important Paddington is to them.
Although the themes could be serious, they're played out with a delightfully light tone. Wes Anderson-like quirks feature throughout, including the use of miniature sets, stylised decor, immaculate costumes and a soundtrack from a band that plays on the street. All these elements contribute to making this sweet, wholesome story about a bear finding a new home appealing for adults and their kids.
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