Film Review: 'Paddington'

★★★★☆
Originally conceived in 1958 by Michael Bond, Paddington Bear is given new life in Paul King’s quintessentially British family comedy. Packed to the rafters with a stellar cast that boasts Sally Hawkins and Ben Whishaw, Paddington (2014) is a tale of delights. Opening with the click of a black and white newsreel, a mustachioed explorer, Montgomery Clyde (Tim Downie) hacks through deepest, darkest Peru and encounters a rare species of talking bear with a penchant for the sticky orange stuff. Fast forward to the present day where we meet the pint-sized bear (Ben Whishaw) collecting oranges for his furry Aunt Lucy and grizzled Uncle Pastuzo, voiced by Imelda Staunton and Michael Gambon.

Disaster strikes, destroying Paddington's jungle home and leaving Aunt Lucy a widow. She feels that Paddington would be far safer in London, a place she remembers being told about by the explorer decades earlier. Setting off on the perilous journey alone, complete with his legendary tag about his neck ('Please look after this bear, thankyou'), and nothing but a suitcase full of marmalade, the young bear voyages out to sea, eventually arriving in London where The Brown Family promptly adopts him. King’s contemporary adaptation has a simplistic arc, introducing peril in the form of Nicole Kidman’s Millicent. She's a taxidermist decked out in a starched white coat and sporting a sinister bleached-blonde hair-do, hell-bent on stuffing Paddington and putting him on display in London's Natural History Museum.

Paddington is very much in the heritage of Bond’s books, harking back to a central message of acceptance, in the light of post-war Britain welcoming refugees and Caribbean immigrants. A calypso band neatly appear at key moments to provide part of the soundtrack to the movie, and Jim Broadbent makes an appearance as the affable antiques dealer Mr. Gruber, a refugee who fled Hitler’s Germany. King, who is best known for his work on surreal comedies Garth Marenghi's Darkplace and BBC Three’s The Mighty Boosh, transfers his penchant for whimsy to the film with great effect. There is clearly an element of Wes Anderson’s influence on the film in terms of the keen attention to detail, particularly in the Brown’s quaint home which is an inversion of Paddington’s natural habitat. Blossoming trees are painted on the walls and the staircase dominates the centre of the house like an enormous trunk.

Digital effects company Framestore (best known for their stellar work on last year’s Oscar-hoarding Gravity (2013)), are responsible for bringing Paddington to life, and once again have proven to be masters of their art. There has clearly been careful consideration given to making the bear look ursuline, yet reminiscent of both Bond’s original version as well as hinting at the 1970s Film Fair stop-motion rendition. Arguably it is all a bit 'Cath Kidson' but, like a cup of hot chocolate on a winter’s day there's a warming charm to proceedings. Paddington is delectably twee, yet it's the big heart in this charming tale that resonates loudest. Devoid of cash-in cynicism, and full of belly-shaking humour, Paddington proves to be not just a wonderful contemporary rendition of the bear, but a polite hat-tip to the man who created him, paying homage in the best way possible: by bringing a gentle, slightly reserved, smile to audience faces.

Joe Walsh | @JosephDAWalsh

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