Paddington review

Adapting Michel Bond’s much beloved but rather slim Paddington stories couldn’t have been easy for writer-director Paul King, but it’s clear that he took the job very seriously and poured his heart and soul into it. As a result, he’s made a film that’s both carefully thought out and very smartly executed.

The movie opens with with newsreel-style footage of an explorer in Darkest Peru, where he discovers an unusual pair of highly intelligent bears. After introducing them to marmalade and leaving behind what audiences will no doubt recognise as Paddington’s hat, the explorer goes on his way.

As the film now moves into the present day, it becomes clear that the bears in Peru have had little or no further contact with the outside world. Instead, they’ve developed a sort of cargo cult around the explorer’s influences and gifts. Without meaning to, the explorer had imported a very particular idea of Britishness, and the bears have built their culture around it.

Just a few minutes in, the movie has reconciled Paddington’s peculiar British eccentricity with his immigrant status, and in a way that will later pay dividends as the story develops.

After an earthquake destroys the bears’ jungle domiciles, Paddington is sent to rainy London in search of a new home. He has very little by way of luggage, rose tinted expectations of what he’ll find there, and a tag tied round his neck asking for those who find him to “Please look after this bear.”

The soundtrack to Paddington’s adventure is punctuated by performances by D Lime, featuring Tobago Crusoe, a band who were especially put together for the film. They’re first introduced as they play the beautifully optimistic and upbeat London Is The Place For Me, written by and made famous by Lord Kitchener. The song is very much in keeping with the film’s key themes and Paddington’s optimism about the same ideas. It also beautifully ties together Paddington‘s statuses as both a light-hearted family feature and also a film which will tap into important social ideas, both modern and historical.

Running in opposition to Paddington’s attitudes about London, and even people in general, is Millicent, the villain of the piece. She’s played Nicole Kidman in leopard print heels and a perfect bob – when did we all decide that bobs were synonymous with being evil?

Also struggling somewhat with Paddington’s optimism is the risk averse Mr. Brown (Hugh Bonneville), whose first response upon seeing the bear is to mutter “Stranger danger” and sweep his family aside. In addition to being something of an origin story for Paddington, this film is also very much about Mr. Brown, and gives him a character arc that has a lot in common with Mr. Banks’ story in Mary Poppins.

Bonneville is very entertaining in the role of Mr. Brown and the story of his redemption is all the more pleasurable to watch for being so well woven into the film, rather than pushed to the forefront. His character also enjoys a number of incredibly funny moments, both as the butt of jokes and also in the film’s high number of scenes of physical comedy, all of which are nicely conceived and executed.

Indeed, there are so many inventive set pieces that the film might sometimes edge closer to being more like a patchwork of comic vignettes, but the overarching narrative is just substantial and commanding  enough to keep this from being a real issue.

The way in which King puts each of his sequences together is undoubtedly highly imaginative, with an effective mixture of computer generated and practical effects that is fresh and always stylistically consistent.

King and his collaborators have crafted an adaptation that stays close to their source material without ever being constrained by it, and made a wonderful family film that offers appeal to all ages without ever rejecting important and timely themes and ideas.

Paddington is out in UK cinemas now.