Inspired by a lone teddy bear author Michael Bond noticed on a store shelf near Paddington Station on Christmas Eve 1956. The literature debut of the loveable little bear known as ‘Paddington,’ came in the children’s book: ‘A Bear Called Paddington’ in 1958, and has since been featured in more than twenty books written by Bond and illustrated by Peggy Fortnum, among other artists. In 2014, writer and director Paul King (Under One Roof, Bunny and the Bull, Paddington 2) brought the darling bear to the silver screen in a film that affectionately honours its source material while simultaneously delivering a family-friendly fable that is just as heart-warming and amusing as its marmalade-munching protagonist.
Plot Summary: After a devastating earthquake destroys his home in the Peruvian rainforest, a young bear with an affection for all things British travels to London in search of a new home. Finding himself lost and alone at Paddington Station, he begins to realise that city life is not all he had imagined it to be, until he encounters the ‘Brown Family,’ who after reading the label around his neck, offer him a temporary haven. But just as things seem to be looking-up for the Peruvian bear, he soon catches the eye of a fiendish museum taxidermist…
With the story itself sharing many similarities to the creation of the ‘Paddington’ character; as the idea of a lonely bear sitting in Paddington Station can be linked back to old newsreels depicting child evacuees leaving London during World War II, with labels around their necks and their possessions packed in small suitcases, its clear that King understands the importance of this character in pop-culture. Yet suitably, the film also doesn’t play things too safe and updates the character to stay relevant within modern times. Additionally, as a family comedy, ‘Paddington’ hits all the right notes, as the film’s gags range from laugh-out-loud observations regarding the transformative effects of fatherhood to slapstick bathroom antics, satisfying any audience member regardless of their age.
The voice of: ‘Paddington’ is provided by Ben Whishaw, who it turns out is the perfect voice for the beloved bear, as his line delivery is naive yet charming, depicting ‘Paddington’ as an innocent character who always sees the positive in any given situation. Moreover, the supporting cast of Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins and Nicole Kidman are all delightful and are given an unexpected amount of characterisation, with ‘Henry Brown’ being an uptight, risk analyst who is reluctant to take ‘Paddington’ in, whilst his kind, artistic wife: ‘Mary,’ treats ‘Paddington’ almost as if he is their own child. But it’s Kidman who truly steals the show as the film’s antagonist: ‘Millicent,’ riding the line between sinister and playfully over-the-top in her portrayal of a museum taxidermist who catches and stuffs exotic animals in her spare time.
Continuously imaginative and vibrant, the cinematography by Erik Wilson is ceaselessly innovative, assembling many visually pleasing shots with equally pleasant bursts of colour, especially when snow begins to fall over London during the final act. It also becomes apparent when examining the camerawork that ‘Paddington’ is just as much a love letter to the city of London as it is an adaptation of a classic child-friendly character. So, of course, there’s the usual display of postcard locations, from the London Eye to Buckingham Palace, along with a stream of light-hearted wisecracks surrounding taxis, the underground and the mundanity of modern life in the British capital.
On a separate note, the original score for the film is by no means a work of art, but composer Nick Urata does manage to craft a score that remains both diverse and playful through tracks like ‘Arrival in London,’ ‘This Will Do Nicely,’ ‘Millicent’s Lab’ and ‘Theif Chase.’ While the more tender tracks such as: ‘Journey from Peru’ and ‘The Letter Home,’ blend austere piano melodies with subtle strings, making for an altogether cheerful if slightly prosaic score.
When it comes to ‘Paddington’ himself, the film brings the character to life via the use of CGI. And whilst this information may worry a few fans of the character, the CG effects used throughout the film are almost faultless, as ‘Paddington’ expresses a range of emotions and seamlessly interacts with the environments/objects around him. Furthermore, ‘Paddington’s outfit is an exact replica of what he wears in the book series, including his iconic blue duffel coat and red Peruvian hat. However, producer David Heyman dismissed his well-known red Wellington boots as they were not actually part of the character’s original design, but were added over the years by toy manufacturers to ensure that the real-life ‘Paddington’ teddy bears were able to stand on their feet.
Overall, even though ‘Paddington’ follows a formula seen in numerous other family flicks, the film is understandably more concerned with making its audience laugh and cry than it is reinventing the genre (something it achieves with aplomb). And with a heart as big as its protagonist’s appetite for marmalade, I feel ‘Paddington’ deserved the successful franchise it later received, with its superb humour, pitch-perfect performances and incidental details proudly cementing the film as an adaption that could go hand-to-hand with some of the finest adaptions of children’s literature. Final Rating: 8/10.