The Review: What’s the first thing you think of when you think of a bear? Is it a vicious creature that weighs several times what you do that could rip you limb from limb and looks like this?
Probably not. Which would explain why people have had to be warned in the US recently against taking selfies with bears. That’s right:
No, that’s fine, you see how close you can get, mate, if it comes any closer it probably just wants a cuddle. And he’s not alone either.
So why do the authorities need need to go to the lengths of warning people not to get up close and personal to bears? Could it be because, through our stories and tales, we have created an image of bears as being cuddly and friendly, often charming, almost self-deprecating? When we think of bears we undoubtedly think more of this:
Or possibly this:
No-one anthropomorphises bears like us Brits, and after Winnie and his mates have been stealing the limelight for years, it’s now the turn of the bear from Darkest Peru to worm his way back into our affections. If you’re about the same age as me (fortyish) and British, then this will be the kind of image of Paddington that will have you flashing back to your childhood faster than a food critic eating ratatouille:
But as anthropomorphisms go, Paddington takes some beating. This duffle-coat wearing, suitcase carrying gentleman has a fondness for marmalade and a unforced formality that might make him the most polite bear you’ve ever met. But be careful, for although he won’t be detaching your limbs from their sockets with his vicious teeth or sharp claws anytime soon, he might still be just as dangerous as any of his wilder cousins.
Where so many children’s adaptations have failed to capture the magic of their original inspiration, Paddington nails both the tone and characterisation from the outset. Put aside any concerns you have that the movie Paddington isn’t an exact replica of the one you see in that last image, for while the outside may have had a CGI makeover, the inside is as charming, gently ruffled and unmistakably a classic British archetype as you’ll ever hope to find. From the moment that the Brown family first meet this bear on a train station platform, his earnest and understated plea for assistance in the face of Mr. Brown’s suspicions that this bear should be avoided as he may be some form of undesirable salesman, the film absolutely and critically nails the exact tone necessary to allow this bear to win you over. Not only does Paddington no longer resemble his original source outwardly, but the Browns are also physically less than a passing resemblance, but it matters not. From Ben Whishaw’s perfect voice casting as the Peruvian charmer to Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins as the Browns and even Julie Walters as eccentric housekeeper Mrs Brown and Peter Capaldi as grumpy next-door neighbour Mr Curry, everyone involved has the feel and the attitude of the original Paddington stories to a tee, right down to Paddington’s trademark hard stares.
It also helps that director and co-writer Paul King has a background in the absurd, from his last feature Bunny And The Bull to his time on The Mighty Boosh, and Paddington’s world is just far enough off-kilter to remain enchanting while avoiding crossing the line of being grating. The Browns might live in a fictional London road that would seem twee for a Richard Curtis film, not to mention one where the few non-white faces are of the fourth-wall breaking band seen singing on street corners, but it’s an enchanting world that Paddington’s been dropped into and crucially one with a superb amount of attention to detail. From the “found” part of a Lost and Found sign flickering on when Paddington first meets Mrs Brown to the careful way in which Paddington’s traditional costume is assembled, King has finely honed every single detail and created an escapist paradise. There’s a host of British talent put to good use both on the screen and behind the camera, and while not everything is flawless, the CGI no longer evokes memories of the Creepy Paddington meme that started with the release of the first images and saw the likes of this being photoshopped:
The production values are of a good enough standard not to take you out of the meticulously created world at any point.
As mentioned earlier, it’s a world into which jeopardy is introduced, but not at anywhere near the levels of most similar films and the only way this Paddington might be likely to kill you is with his kindness. Nicole Kidman is introduced as a nominal baddie, but she and henchman Kayvan Novak get relatively little screen time and the stakes never get raised anything above the titular bear. That’s fine, and it’s nice to see a film that has the courage of its convictions and doesn’t get unnecessarily bogged down in saving the universe or trying to broker world peace. It’s simple and enchanting, yet manages to sneak in enough to keep the grown-ups happy as well as the children. It is also playfully dangerous with the way in which it shows us a migrant bear, effectively the kind of benefit-claiming hanger-on so derided by right-wing political parties, but actually serves as the most positive advertisement for racial integration you could possibly imagine. It would have been understandable to fear Paddington, not for his actions or his demeanour but for the possibility of yet another treasured childhood memory being trampled, but this one has been treasured and the result is little short of a heart-warming triumph wrapped up with a gentle message of tolerance. Just remember though, as cute as this fictional Peruvian resident is, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security or into getting any selfies with his real-life cousins any time soon, no matter how adorable they might be:
Why see it at the cinema: I can’t say this clearly enough: it’s an absolute delight, and will have audiences of all ages laughing and fully engaged. Aim to see it in as full a cinema as possible. Additionally, the rich level of background detail demands to be seen in the cinema to be fully appreciated.
What about the rating? Controversial, this one. Rated PG for dangerous behaviour, mild threat, innuendo, infrequent mild bad language. Very young children might be a little intimidated by the baddies, but most of the rest is just a very cautious approach from the BBFC. I’ve seen PGs that were a lot worse.
My cinema experience: Seen in a half full screen at Saturday teatime in Cineworld Cambridge. It’s often the case that child-friendly films sell out during the day and then struggle for evening audiences, and this was no exception, although with strong word of mouth the equivalent showing this weekend may be fuller. Either way, the audience was enraptured by the adventures of the duffel coat wearing marmalade addict and there was plenty of audience noise of the right kinds to make the film a thoroughly enjoyable experience. (And it wasn’t just the kids making noise, I heard plenty of adults getting very emotionally caught up with the film too.)
The Score: 9/10