If it’s been a long time since you read the Paddington books by Michael Bond, the story line of the new film, Paddington, may not feel familiar at first, but as it turns out, the film captures the essence of the author’s work perfectly. The little bear in the red hat, battered suitcase and a duffle coat coming to London from deepest, dark Peru, who is taken in by the Brown family, is quite charmingly brought to life in the new film, which has received high marks from critics and audiences alive. The housekeeper Mrs. Bird and the curmudgeon neighbor Mr. Curry play important roles, as does the house on 32 Windsor Lane.
In short, there is enough in the movie that will be familiar for devotees of Paddington books to ground them, but for those of us new to the books, or who’d forgotten, there is also a fresh and humorous story line about how Paddington got there… and the evil that he and the Brown family have to overcome to keep him safe.
The story has a classic set-up. Already orphaned, Paddington loses his beloved Uncle in an earthquake and his Aunt can no longer care for him. He needs to go to London in search of a family to take him in, which bears in Peru believe is an easy task in London. Despite a rough first day, our hero manages to find the Brown family who, as luck would have it, need a bear as much as Paddington needs a family.
Mr. Brown played by the now familiar face of Hugh Bonneville (the patriarch of Downtown Abbey), is a risk analyst, obsessed with the safety of his children beyond reason — and at the expense of fun. His wife, very charmingly played by Sally Hawkins, is trying desperately to connect with her sullen daughter and overly protected son. She is the one who brings Paddington into their lives despite all her family’s objections, and gets them involved in a search to find Paddington a home. While it’s obvious that their home is his home, the journey to that realization is still a beautiful one. A journey made all the more difficult by an evil Taxidermist played by Nicole Kidman who wants to see Paddington stuffed!
It all works, thanks to the fine performances, but also to a script that is very witty. When the father is on hold with an insurance company, the recording states, “….Your call is moderately important to us.” And Paddington describes Judy the teenage girl by saying“… she suffers from a serious condition called embarrassment”. There were a lot of little comic gems that ensure parents will enjoy the ride every bit as much as kids.
The director Paul King also brings real love and visual panache to the story and the city of London, which turns out to be another well-drawn character in the film. There are shots that harken back to the rooftops of London that we know from Mary Poppins. He also invokes the excitement of Home Alone when Paddington is in fact left home alone, and the villain comes to get him. Also, watch the wallpaper in the home on 32 Windsor as it creates its own poetic imagery and enjoy a Calypso Band that appears regularly on the London streets providing a fun, original sound track.
My son loved it as much as I did, but the funny thing is when I grilled him about what he loved most, he said, “The funny parts in the bathroom when the bear was licking ear wax and putting his head in the toilet.” So there you go. The nice thing is, I think the movie will bring young readers back to the books, and I love that — ear wax aside –my son loved a movie about such a kind, polite and well-intentioned young bear.
Here is a fun history of the book’s author and his famous bear.
Paddington (2014) 95 min Rated PG for mild action and rude humor
Director: Paul King
Writers: Paul King, Hamish McColl (screen story) Michael Bond (Character of Paddington Bear)
Reporting by Cary Bickley