WHAT’S REMARKABLE ABOUT “Paddington” is not only the extraordinary CGI rendering of the bear, but the fact that it’s a joyfully funny, good-natured movie without a trace of schmaltz.
The writing (by Michael Bond who created the original character) and directing (by Paul King who co-wrote the script) is solidly aimed at what’s marketed as ‘family fare’… which is enough to run away from as fast as you can. But in this instance, the few tartly directed adult jokes and the pro-immigration, anti UKIP/Conservative sub-text are only there to fool the adults in the audience and lull them into their voluntary submission of adult-ness in exchange for regressive childhood fun.
Indeed, there’s a stand-out scene where Paddington is trying to find his way around the mysterious tools (toothbrushes) and equipment (the loo) of a modern bathroom. His clumsiness and curiosity result in the kind of hilarious chaos that the makers of “Horrible Bosses 2” strove so hard and earnestly to find and never did.
We saw the movie in a theatre-full of delighted kids, all of whom I guarantee will be seeing this again and again and again over the next year or so (I myself might)
The story centers around a young Peruvian bear with a love of marmalade and all things British. As is usual with kids’ stories, a sad parental loss precipitates the action: he’s forced to leave his ancestral homeland and stows away to London in the hope of reuniting with an explorer who had stumbled upon and befriended his family many years ago. Alone and abandoned in Paddington station, with a label around his neck that reads, “Please look after this bear. Thank you”, he’s ‘discovered’ by the Brown family who take pity on him for one night only.
Hugh Bonneville of Downtown Abbey is the stern, accident obsessed father, Sally Hawkins (“Blue Jasmine”) is the mother, Samuel Joslin and Madeline Harris are the kids. They’re all there as foils for Paddington’s wild, anarchic introduction to a forgiving, accepting life in multi-cultural London. But, despite a stellar cast that reads like a who’s who of British film: Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, Imelda Staunton, Ben Wishaw – as the bear’s voice – Michael Gambon and Peter Capaldi, the CGI animated Paddington is the absolute star of the show. There’s nothing about the CGI effects of the bear (executed with mind-boggling skill by –mainly- Framestore, the company who brought us “Gravity”, “Guardians of the Galaxy”, “Edge of Tomorrow”, “Sherlock Homes: A Game of Sorrows”) that allows you for a moment to think that you’re seeing anything other than a real bear.
Indeed, the range of expressions the bear displays: bewilderment, innocence, heroism, bravery, stoicism and what have you, are considerably more real than the range of expressions Nicole Kidman’s Botox allows her.
Nicole is Millicent, the daughter of the explorer who’d stumbled into the bears in the Peruvian forest. But she’s a taxidermist with a mean axe to grind and an eye to Paddington as a stuffed prize. She’s also the only figure in the film whose plastic animation makes her seem like an animation. She’s the only one whose acting looks like acting.
Paddington is of course an illegal Latin American alien (though a remarkably English sounding one at that). And, as we noted, the narrative has great fun with this. Because in the movie, so unlike the present mood of the country, Paddington’s accepted and after a pause of British reserve, fully welcomed as one of the family. The pro-immigration point is underlined by a brace of calypsos that bookend the film, and that act as a nice time displacement of the setting, which is part ‘now’ and part 1955 (the time when UKIP wants us all to regress to).
Paddington’s arrival is heralded by a calypso fresh from the Empire Windrush (that was the steamship that brought the first generation of West Indian immigrants to England in 1948) with the lovely lyrics, “I was never told that London could be so cold”.
Maybe we’ve been fooled all along. Paddington is no Latino from Peru. He’s really a Trinidadian.