Paddington (2014)

2015 #182
Paul King | 95 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | UK & France / English | PG / PG

The signs weren’t good for Paddington as it geared up for release: its star voice actor, Colin Firth, pulled out late in production; on posters, the CGI lead character looked like the personification of the uncanny valley; and the BBFC rating that cited “sex references” made it sound like it had entirely the wrong tone for an adaptation of a beloved classic children’s book. But these portents were quickly consigned to history when the film received an adulatory response from critics and audiences alike.

The story follows young bear Paddington (in the end voiced by Ben Whishaw) as he leaves his native Peru in search of a new home in London. There he temporarily falls in with the Brown family: reluctant father Henry (Hugh Bonneville), hippyish mum Mary (Sally Hawkins), moody teenage daughter Judy (Madeleine Harris), keen son Jonathan (Samuel Joslin), and their barmy housekeeper, Mrs Bird (Julie Walters). As they try to find Paddington a permanent home, he comes to the attention of museum taxidermist Millicent (Nicole Kidman), who wants to add him to her permanent collection…

Paddington is a fine example of why you can’t judge a film by its marketing, because the critics were right: this is a joyous, funny movie; a delight for all ages. It also shows that sometimes euphemistic PR phrases like “creative differences” or “we agreed he wasn’t right for the part” aren’t actually euphemistic at all: Firth would’ve been all wrong for Paddington, at least as he’s realised here, and so his departure was a wise move for the sake of the character. Whishaw, on the other hand, nails it, his boyish tones being resolutely character-appropriate.

The rest of the cast are all very safe pairs of hands, meaning viewers can rest easy that, if there is a weak link, it won’t come from the performances. This is further cemented by supporting turns from the likes of (in order of appearance) Geoffrey Palmer, Imelda Staunton, Michael Gambon, Matt Lucas, Peter Capaldi, and Jim Broadbent, plus a host of faces viewers may recognise from British TV comedy.

Fortunately, the screenplay (by director Paul King) is no slouch either. The film mixes various styles of comedy, as verbal humour rubs shoulders with pure slapstick, sight gags sit alongside witty spoofery, and there’s even a spot of pantomime-esque cross-dressing. This isn’t a case of “throw everything at the screen and see what sticks”, though. There’s a resolutely good-natured tone that’s liable to keep a smile on your face, and perhaps even win over more sceptical audience members — just as the initially-grumpier members of the Brown clan are too.

Inevitably a sequel is in development, but King is reportedly being given as much time as he feels he needs to get it right — always a good thing. Whenever it rolls around, I suspect it will be met with considerably fewer doubts. Not pandering to the criticisms of its pre-release hype, Paddington emerges with a sure-handed approach and material that merits such confidence. A delightful movie for viewers of any age.

4 out of 5