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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Paddington Review: A Sheer Delight

Paddington is a sheer delight, wrapped in marmalade and adorable furry bear hugs.

Review by Matt Cummings

American audiences have witnessed so many fantastic incarnations of Winnie the Pooh over the years that it might be hard to welcome a relative unknown to the game. Luckily, Paddington has arrived with enough warm hugs and simple values to make a strong case for its consideration.

When a young bear travels from the forests of Darkest Peru to be adopted, Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) soon learns that the London he knows from the 1940's is no longer there. Stuck in a train station with the tag 'Please look after this bear. Thank you.' around his neck, he soon finds a temporary home courtesy of Mary (Sally Hawkins) and Henry (Hugh Bonneville) Brown, who promise to help him locate the famous explorer who saved his Aunt and Uncle from taxidermy many years ago. Unfortunately, dark forces are plotting his demise, including the museum taxidermist Millicent (Nicole Kidman), who wants to stuff the accident-prone Paddington to save her family name. Soon, he and his adopted family must do more than merely learn to live with each other: they must work together to keep this rarest of bears from a terrible fate.

What makes Paddington work so well lies in reminding us about the simple values and social etiquette lost to the iPhone Generation. The idea that a family - any family - could rewind the clock and accept a total stranger into their home might seem foolish given our current times. But Director/Writer Paul King sells it so completely that we don't feel like The Browns are going to suddenly reappear in a terrorist camp thousands of miles away. It certainly suggests that random kindness and traditional values can and should be maintained. Whishaw brings a tender intelligence to Paddington, demonstrating that he's not a one-note character. Sure he's accident-prone and even naive about the world around him, but within Paddington lies the simple values of love and friendship to which we should all aspire. Considering that the project was in deep trouble with the departure of voice Colin Firth as the bear, Whishaw now makes it difficult to think of anyone else in the role.

But King certainly does everything he can to make us love Paddington, with those giant CGI eyes and bumbling disposition. You can't help but love him, as the story is part origin with Paddington slowly gaining his trademark clothes, part roaring adventure around London as he tries to find the enigmatic explorer. But it's also The Browns who keep the story moving, a perfect mixture of the educated 21st Century family who need Paddington to rekindle their inner child. Hawkins is quickly becoming a multi-faceted box office draw, showing us her tender side here as the creative mom who first brings the bear home but soon becomes the family's emotional anchor. In many ways, she and Bonneville steal the show, with his risk-analyst scowl revealing a freer time of hippy love and motorcycles; they are in my mind the perfect English pair (although I have never met one), revealing how great actors inhabit their roles instead of merely reading lines.

There isn't much that Kidman is bad in, and here she plays the comedic villain to perfection. Yet her character is a well-drawn one, reminding us that the darker path our lives might take is usually self-inflicted. This is more like her portrayal of Marisa Coulter in The Golden Compass, a terribly misled individual who was pushed in the wrong direction but now needs a shove back to the middle. She's the perfect vixen baddie without letting kids on about her sexual dominance, something we never picked up in Looney Toons cartoons and other shows until we were much older. That tradition continues here with King and Producer David Heyman serving up mostly clean laughs but reminding us that physical comedy and the simple values of friendship and love can join hand in hand.

This is the new franchise that no one saw coming, yet I worry whether such a film - or the impending Peanuts feature - will meet with approval by a exceedingly negative moviegoer. Paddington makes a strong case for further episodes, its warmth, good humor, and sense of spirit making it a multiple-viewing must.

If Paddington doesn't warm your heart, tug at your children's heartstrings, and even make you tear up a bit, then perhaps everyone should check themselves for a pulse. It's a sheer delight, with pitch-perfect performances, incredible CGI, and Whishaw is terrific as the accident-prone bear. Let's hope American audiences will come to love it, as we need more stories like these between the murderous treachery, scantily clad women, and superhero escapades that dominate American film.

Paddington is Rated PG for mild action and rude humor and has a runtime of 95 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.


Top rated site for Bear tours in Alaska August 8, 2015 at 1:56 AM  

I watched it in theaters and just HAD to get it once I saw it on Amazon, I LOVE this movie. It's just so cute and makes my heart warm, very adorable

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