A Film Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Based on the beloved British bear, Paddington is one of the most charming, sweet films of the year. It’s frankly a bit of a surprise that it’s being released in the dreaded early months of the year, where all the duds go to meet their deaths at the hands of Christmas leftovers and Oscar nominees. Smart, sweet, and deep, Paddington is the journey of the titular bear from the jungles of Darkest Peru and to London. An explorer named Montgomery had once journeyed to the nation, where he found the most extraordinary of bears and told them that if they were to ever arrive in London, they would find a very warm welcome. Paddington arrives through a plethora of trails and tribulations, only to find himself stranded on a lonely dark platform. To his good fortune, a lovely woman and her family take him in until he can find the explorer who had come to his land so long ago. That’s the basic premise of the film and when you throw in Nicole Kidman’s evil taxidermist (yes, you read that right), it just gets better from there. In all honesty, Paddington really has no right being as darned adorable as it is but its energy is simply infectious.
Paddington works because there is an intelligent sensibility in the balancing act between being childish and poignant that it pulls off remarkably well. At its core, one could argue that the film is truly about the experience of an immigrant, told not just through Paddington himself but also through the recollections of Jim Broadbent’s Mr. Samuel Gruber, who himself was a war refugee. Paddington’s tag and journey itself is certainly meant to be reminiscent of the children who were sent to the countryside during the blitzkrieg of London in World War II to find refuge in homes far away from the city under attack. Paddington’s message of inclusion certainly is permeated significantly throughout the film’s brisk ninety-five minutes because it never wants that theme to be lost amidst all of the laughs and clever puns. At a time in European history where the ugly spectra of right-wing paranoia is rising its head once again, pointing the acute blame of Europe’s woes on the backs of its immigrants, Paddington’s allegory is an especially sharp one.
The clever script contributes greatly to the film’s success, full of hilarious jokes that will keep the kids reigned in (a highlights is Paddington’s confusion at using the facilities and the subsequent washout that occurs). Amidst all the jokes for children, however, are clever little barbs sprinkled throughout to ensure that the attention of adults is kept in check. Mr. Brown, for example, is worryingly getting a higher insurance claim after Paddington initially moves in. The second language in a Chinese language learning software makes a joke about an investor being caught for insider trading. You get the idea. The script’s golden cue, however, may be the sheer amount of clever puns on display. When the GPS is yelling “Bear Left!”, there’s a quick shot to Paddington literally flying through the air to the car’s left. When Kidman’s Millicent is putting Paddington into a car, it says “TAXI” before she closes the door and “DERMIST” appears on the side of the van. To the script’s credit, none of that ever becomes overbearing or repetitive. That is certainly helped by the pacing of Paddington, which is quick and it seems that the film just zips by. A repeat viewing is essential – there’s simply no way that anyone can capture all of the zany jokes in one sitting.
The performances are top notch and I have to give full kudos to Ben Whishaw, who provides the iconic bear with a complexity that transcends his simple sweetness. Nicole Kidman is absolutely hilarious and she clearly is enjoying chewing the scenery with a delectable evil. Sir Michael Gambon and Imelda Staunton contribute to the Harry Potter reunion with producer David Heyman and their voices are as emblematic as one would expect. Jim Broadbent in his brief appearance carries the pathos and grief of his experiences effortlessly while Peter Capaldi goes for a fantastic turn towards darkly romantic. Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Madeleine Harris, and Samuel Joslin make up the Brown family; their chemistry and rapport is natural and infectious in and of itself. That energy is captured perfectly by director Paul King, who gets to provide dynamic flourishes that pay a great deal of homage paid to Wes Anderson’s eccentric yet delightful panning out to multiple characters doing their own things in various rooms.
Despite the quick pacing and energetic rhythm, the film is not without its flaws. There’s a sort of predictability within Paddington that arises simply from it being a kid’s film. As an experienced audience, we can sense that certain twists are certainly projected from farther away than a kilometer or two. But that’s a small irritation in an otherwise perfectly executed film. The CG elements are only grating in a spot here or there but for the most part the integration of the digital Paddington into the real-life London environment is done seamlessly. Being branded a kids’ film can sometimes be a detriment to how a film is received, an unfortunate consequence of the general idea that films that are marketed towards families can’t be poignant. It’s irritating that that perception remains so steadfast, despite being proven ridiculous on multiple occasions and that is disproven here once more. Paddington is a sharp, whimsical, legitimately sweet film that never forgets, even for a single moment, how much a home can mean to those who have none. Now excuse me while I go off to buy some marmalade and Kleenex.
MPAA Rating: PG
Directed by: Paul King
Produced by: David Heyman
Screenplay by: Paul King, Hamish McColl
Based On: Paddington Bear by Michael Bond
Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, Nicole Kidman, Ben Whishaw, Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton
Music: Nick Urata
Cinematography: Erik Wilson
Editing: Mark Everson
Production Company: Heyday Films, StudioCanal
Running Time: 95 minutes
Release Dates: 28 November 2014
Image Courtesy: Truth and Charity