Depending on age, viewers will either know Paddington from Michael Bond’s books, the TV series, or not at all. Regardless of which category you fall into, Paul King’s new film of Paddington is an absolute delight and the most unexpected cinematic treat of 2014.
The eponymous talking bear from the jungles of darkest Peru finds himself in London searching for a home, whereupon he is taken in by the Brown family. Mr Brown (Hugh Bonnevillle), a risk assessor who helpfully informs his children that “11 per cent of accidents start with jumping”, is initially reluctant to take in said bear. In fact, his first response is to buy extra insurance cover, but slowly he warms to the disaster prone Paddington as he finds his feet in a Richard Curtis-style London.
So much could have gone wrong with Paddington, and King spent several years crafting the film in order to get it just right. One late change was Ben Whishaw, replacing Colin Firth in vocal duties when it was felt that Firth’s voice didn’t quite work. Whishaw, thankfully, is perfect and really compliments the excellent CGI that has been employed in bringing Paddington to life.
The rest of the cast are excellent in their respective roles, including the always wonderful Sally Hawkins playing Mrs Brown and Samuel Joslin and Madeleine Harris as the Brown children Jonathan and Judy. Imelda Staunton’s Aunt Lucy strikes an amusingly eccentric note, and Peter Capaldi crops up as nosey neighbour Mr Curry, who seems to represent the Daily Mail reader in his desire to ship those immigrant bears back to their own country. Elsewhere there are fun bit parts for Jim Broadbent, Matt Lucas and a splendidly nasty turn from Nicole Kidman, who goes the full Cruella DeVille as psychotic taxidermist Millicent. However, the key character in many ways is Bonneville’s uptight Mr Brown, whose adventurous spirit has been weighed down by too much risk assessment. His Mr Banks-esque character arc is predictable but a joy to witness.
In fact, predictable but a joy to witness pretty much sums up the entire film. There is something for everyone in Paddington – splendidly judged slapstick, knowing jokes for adults, thrills, tears and even a smidgeon of subtext about the importance of treating strangers kindly, instead of making paranoid assumptions about immigrants. The fact that no-one bats an eyelid about a talking bear in their midst is intended as a celebration of an inclusive, multicultural, and obviously massively idealised London, though thankfully the film is anything but preachy.
In summary, Paddington is a funny, touching, whimsical blast, stylishly helmed by King. See it with all the family.