‘Paddington’ Review: Exit Amused By a Bear
If the resilience of the human spirit is ever in doubt, one need look only to the fact that our species survived thee live-action Alvin & The Chipmunks, two Garfields and one Marmaduke with only a modest increase in the overall suicide rate. “Keep Calm and Carry On,” as the Brits have told us, and so we did, in part because the human mind has a stupendous knack for repressing our most traumatic of memories, and in part because it was only a matter of time before at least one movie came along that combined CGI talking animals and live-action humans and was actually worth a damn.
That film is Paddington, a wonderful and darling British import (see? they knew what they were talking about) based on Michael Bond’s beloved storybooks, about an immigrant bear adapting to the big, wide human world. The film is a treasure, presenting a simple story about casual xenophobia as an imaginative, witty family movie about opening one’s heart and making incredibly stupid bear puns.
Paddington isn’t altogether a unique motion picture. It has its fair share of slapstick, its fair share of sentimentality and a villain who absolutely must steal the bear. (Because if family movies have taught us anything, it’s that any animal worth keeping is also worth stealing for one nefarious end or another.) It’s not the fish out of water humor that makes Paddington such a rare treat, and it’s certainly not its severe case of heartwarms. It’s the unmistakable sense that every silly aspect of this movie is made with equal parts care and whimsy.
From “Darkest Peru” comes Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw), alone in Great Britain with a tag around his neck, hoping that the kindness of strangers will find him a home after losing his own in the wild. Along comes the Brown family, back from holiday, and trying avert their eyes from the bear in their midst, who – like all talking bears – probably just wants money or something. It is only when Mrs. Brown (Sally Hawkins) convinces the doubtful Mr. Brown (Hugh Bonneville) to help Paddington find a home that everyone confronts their everyday, ingrained doubts about strangers from strange lands, and learns a thing or two about how to care for our fellow man and/or bears.
That would have been enough of a story, so endearing are the Browns and so innocently polite is Paddington, even when he accidentally wrecks their bathroom, but in their midst is a woman named Millicent (Nicole Kidman), who wants Paddington for her own. Not because he’s a talking bear, since no one seems to think much of that. (Later in the film when Paddington goes missing, Mrs. Brown describes him as a bear in a blue coat and a red hat to a police officer, who replies, “That’s not much to go on.”) Rather, Millicent desires Paddington for reasons that – shockingly – have something actually to do with the themes of Paul King’s film; reasons that tie the story up in a somewhat contrived but dramatically satisfying fashion, and which are just dark enough to add a tinge of suspense to a film that is otherwise as cuddly as… a Paddington.
And all of this lovable mush takes place in a world that was already plenty interesting before Paddington even shows up. The land is full of dangerous science experiments and magical murals and tea trains already, notions that make Paddington all the more a pleasant film to explore. It is yet another story, true, about a family whose problems are solved by the sudden introduction of an outsider, but also a family who was affable and eccentric enough to be worth filming beforehand. It is easy to love the Browns, it is easy to love Paddington, and it’s delightfully charming to watch them learn to love each other amidst innocent misunderstandings and quirky little adventures.
Does this bear miss in the Holly woods? Absolutely not. Paddington has enough broad humor to satisfy small children, and more than enough cleverness to entertain the old fuddy-duddies who (like myself), normally respond to this genre with violent and uncontrollable retching noises. You will exit, amused by a bear. And you will probably want to enter again and again to be amused all the more.