Review: Paddington

8 10

PLOT: Thrust out of his home in darkest Peru, a young, talking bear travels to London and is adopted by the Brown family, who help him search for a long lost friend while also attempting to thwart an evil taxidermist.

REVIEW: I will admit: I have no real connection to Paddington. If I was a fan of the books when I was a child, I don't recall it. I didn't own my own Paddington, didn't see any of his cartoons. The character simply isn't "up there" with the lovable fictional figures that make up my memories of being a young boy. When I heard a movie was being made about him, my only reaction was indifference.

As we approached its release, I made it a point not to watch any trailers for PADDINGTON; not for fear of spoilers, but because I frankly had no interest. It seemed very likely to me that this would be another unfortunately modernized update of a beloved children's property, like THE SMURFS or MARMADUKE. After all, how many of these things have been bearable in the last few decades? Very few. Would Paddington rap in this one? Would he meet B-list celebrities and make cringing pop culture references that would soon be out-of-date? Probably.

Well, I'm a fool. PADDINGTON, it turns out, is an immensely charming, sweet and altogether highly enjoyable movie, lead by a lovable protagonist and rounded out with a fantastic cast of veteran performers. It doesn't contain any of the snarky asides I feared it would; it seems to have no interest in being "hip" or appealing to today's generation. In fact, there's a timelessness about it that guarantees it'll delight audiences for many years to come. You'll want to pick it up and take it home with you, much like Paddington himself.

The adults in the house needn't worry about being bored, either. The film's overall entertainment value will be enough to keep them invested, but there are plenty of sly witticisms and references that should fly right over the little ones' heads. It does contain a few substantially worrisome moments that may scare the tykes, coming at the beginning and at the end, but (spoiler alert) the film ends on such a happy note that no one will walk away traumatized.

Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw after Colin Firth ditched the role, and probably not a bad thing) lives in harmony his with his aunt and uncle in "Darkest Peru" in the film's whimsical opening passages, but not five minutes in, an earthquake destroys their home and kills the uncle (yes, this is the scary part; a child in the theater I was in immediately started crying). Paddington is sent off to London by his aunt in search of the British explorer who befriended the bears years earlier, but finding help there proves somewhat troublesome. (No one has time for a talking bear, it seems.) Fortunately for the polite young creature, he's spotted by the kindly Mrs. Brown (a delightful Sally Hawkins), who immediately takes to Paddington's sweet disposition despite the protests of her stuffy husband (Hugh Bonneville, also splendid) and her two children (Samuel Joslin and Madeleine Harris).

Paddington causes a few calamities in the house that don't necessarily help warm him up to Mr. Brown, who initially can't wait for the bear to leave, but soon enough he's burrowed his way into the hearts of the entire clan, who make it their mission to find the explorer Paddington is so desperate to reunite with. But trouble awaits: a sultry taxidermist (there's a first for everything) has her eye on the rare bear and wants to make Paddington part of her prized collection. This evil character is played with delicious intensity by Nicole Kidman, and though her nefarious tracking of the chatty animal still takes place in the same universe as the rest of the film, there's a very good chance the little ones will be thoroughly frightened of her - especially in the film's third act, when Paddington's doom seems a little too real for comfort.

Director Paul King (a veteran of British TV comedies) helms PADDINGTON with a light touch, letting the CG bear and his human cohorts command the screen while an inherent atmosphere of joy tugs the heartstrings. That's not to say the film is bereft of subtext or deeper meaning. Tolerance, immigration, our ecological footprint, the benefits of family... all messages that come across, but with subtlety and keen awareness of the audience. Bottom line: Paddington's adventure should be enough to resonate with any human being - unless you're a monster who sympathizes with the taxidermist.

While the cast is uniformly terrific (Hawkins and Bonneville are the best, and Peter Capaldi has a nice supporting turn as a nosey neighbor who becomes entangled in Kidman's schemes), Paddington is the full show here. Rendered beautifully by Framestore, the character is a marvel to behold and cherish. He may not be the most realistic CG character to ever grace the screen, but I don't think he's supposed to be; there's a slight otherworldliness about Paddington that is in keeping with the character's background in literature and TV. But he interacts wonderfully with his co-stars (not unlike Racket Raccoon, you just buy his presence from start to finish), and as a character is nobel, heroic and kind. It must be said, for those worried about Colin Firth's departure, that Whishaw's vocal stylings are absolutely dead-on, so much so that it's impossible to even imagine it being anyone else. I will listen to Paddington talk about anything.

So yes, PADDINGTON is, as they say, "fun for the whole family," but it's also moving and endearing; you'll want to watch it again immediately.

Source: JoBlo.com



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