Directed by Paul King
“Paddington” makes PG fun. That’s a simple enough statement. Short, seemingly insignificant. But it goes to the heart of why “Paddington” succeeds where other children’s movies might falter.
Based on the smash hit book series (of which there have been over two dozen, from 1958-2014, all written by Michael Dash), “Paddington” begins in the dense forests of Peru, where a British explorer visits a peaceful bear community. He’s come to collect a specimen to return home with, but he falls in love with the bear family instead. Years later, after the sad death of his parents, the young bear Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) travels to London in search of a new place to hang his hat. He’s taken in by the Brown family—father Henry (Hugh Bonneville), mother Mary (Sally Hawkins), children Jonathan and Judy (Samuel Joslin and Madeleine Harris), and the eccentric Mrs. Bird (Julie Walters)—but Henry, looking out for his children’s safety (because Henry is a rather boring father, his kids say), tells his children that they’ll only be keeping Paddington until they find him a home. Paddington has trouble fitting in as he tries to locate the kind explorer who visited his family all those years ago, whose name Paddington cannot remember. Meanwhile, a local taxidermist (Nicole Kidman) tries to get her own grubby hands on Paddington, to stuff him and add him to her museum collection.
From the start, you know exactly how the story will end. The story is old: a newcomer is welcomed hesitantly by a family, but eventually wears out his welcome—in the end, it’s the family who he thought loved him, and not the actual antagonist, who sets the newcomer’s demise into action. Nevertheless, such predictability works as an asset for “Paddington”—it lets you root for the inevitable happy ending. And the script, written by director Paul King and Hamish McColl (both with surprisingly unimpressive British comedy credits), give us all something to giggle at. “Paddington” is one of those smart children’s movies that has something for the parents to get a kick out of, too. I found myself laughing at the charmingly safe humor. It proves that real comedy isn’t fueled by sex and vulgarity.
“Downton Abbey” alum Hugh Bonneville gives a delightful performance where he lets loose, at least compared to the Earl of Grantham. His paternal appeal makes for spot-on casting, and Sally Hawkins is the ideal Mary. Nicole Kidman’s character is as flat as her platinum blond wig—no matter; she pulls what little humor and menace she can from the wreckage. Julie Walters is a scene-stealer, which won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has seen her act before.
The playful personality and truly unique style and set design is nearly Andersonian (as in Wes) in its hipster appeal. It gives “Paddington” a perspective that truly sets it apart. That, and the undisputed fact that every movie from England is better…if only because of its locale.
There’s no shame in good, clean fun. “Paddington” is worth cheering.