VOD film review: Paddington
Ivan Radford | On 27, Mar 2015
Director: Paul King
Cast: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins
Years after Michael Bond’s Paddington turned up at the train station, with a note saying “Please look after this bear” tied around his neck, the idea of someone turning the books into a feature film was a bleak prospect. But from the opening moments of Paul King’s live action romp, it’s clear that this bear has been very well looked after indeed.
A prologue, shot by an explorer in Darkest Peru, introduces our furry friend. “I named one of the bears after my mother,” says the intrepid voiceover, “and the other after an exotic male boxer I met in a bar.” And so we meet Uncle Pastuzo (Michael Gambon), who gulps down marmalade with relish, and Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton), who sends Paddington (Whishaw) on his way to London, where he’s “guaranteed a warm welcome”.
It’s a smart introduction that immediately sets the tone of the movie; one where the poignant tragedy of Bambi can sit alongside irreverent silliness and where a CGI bear and humans can comfortably co-exist.
That matter-of-fact juxtaposition is handled expertly by the rest of the cast, kids and adults alike. “Avoid eye contact, there’s some kind of bear over there,” Mr. Brown tells his children, as they alight from a train one night. “Probably selling something.” Hugh Bonneville is perfect as the uptight father, bumbling his cynical way through the absurd adventure with a straight face and spouting ridiculous statistics about health and safety (“7 per cent of childhood accidents start with jumping”).
Ben Whishaw’s mellifluous vocals are just the right antidote, soothing and mature yet still capable of naive observations; a balance nailed by the cuddly digital effects team. “I think I shall probably sleep over there in that… bin,” he deadpans, with an endearing honesty.
Sally Hawkins, though, delivers the film’s real soul: a warm, welcoming attitude that honours the explorer’s original invitation and contrasts with the capital’s otherwise cold population, whether it’s Peter Capaldi as a NIMBY neighbour or Nicole Kidman as a scheming taxidermist, who wants to kill the Peruvian animal and stuff him.
In anyone else’s hands, the nastiness could be traumatic or the sweet emotion sickly or overstated, but Kidman plays her cruelty for giggles, while the squeaking Hawkins smiles with just the right amount of sincerity. Her message is echoed throughout King’s clever production, which uses Nick Urata’s score and calypso songs from D Lime to remind us of London’s multi-cultural world, and conjures up endlessly enchanting set pieces with the tangible fuzz of the director’s indie roots. Even the script’s comedy is all-inclusive, combining an impressive array of slapstick stunts with puns and musical gags. There is, quite literally, bare humour.
The result is a family film that embraces everyone in the audience, regardless of age or origin. (A sequel would, surely, be called “Paddington: International”.) In a year where we’ve seen the rise of UKIP, Paddington is a lovely reminder that people are capable of kindness and tolerance. One scene sees a fellow orphan, played by Jim Broadbent, retell the story of his wartime evacuation to another country. “My body came,” he smiles, “but my heart… took a little longer to arrive.” Paddington’s has no such delays.