Leave it to the Brits. At first blush, a film based on a decades-old book turned into BBC TV series and stuffed animal toy that was far more popular overseas than in the States would not appear to have much potential. The trailer fails to persuade, making “Paddington” look like a run-of-the-mill frenetic kiddie farce based primarily on pratfalls and predictability. But author Michael Bond’s books have been given the royal treatment by the team that produced the Harry Potter series. Writer-director Paul King, himself a first-class honors graduate of Cambridge University, has created a marvelously warm and witty film that will charm adults and children alike.
Paddington (a wondrous CGI creation delightfully voiced by Ben Whishaw) leaves his home in Darkest Peru and smuggles aboard a lifeboat headed for London. He arrives at Paddington Station (hence his name) wherein he is adopted, only temporarily it seems, by the Brown family. London is not quite what he imagined and he has a difficult time adapting, which does make for some cleverly choreographed slapstick.
But Paddington (both the bear and the movie) is sweeter and wittier than expected. Thanks in large part to a devotion to a gentle, quirky British sense of humor—even a brief cross-dressing scene is hilariously cute—along with a Wes Anderson- influenced visual style featuring gadgets and whimsical production details to spare. A few minutes spent in a shop run by German-accented Jim Broadbent’s kooky antiques dealer is a marvel of panache and palette.
The talented cast includes Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville as the Brown head of household, who at first can’t wait to rid himself of the blue duffel coat-wearing, marmalade-loving nuisance. His more empathetic wife is the perfectly cast Sally Hawkins (“Blue Jasmine”). The primary villain who wants to have Paddington stuffed is museum taxidermist Millicent, played to fabulously sinister and apparently age-defying effect by Nicole Kidman in a blonde bob.
Paddington is polite, well-mannered and self-reflecting—a victim primarily of culture-shock, though a talking bear appears perfectly normal to the locals—with an innocent likeability that recalls “Edward Scissorhands.” Paddington is written without concern for time or cultural trendiness and is practically devoid of snark and sarcasm, making it a nearly perfect movie for parents who hope to find a film that everyone in the family can enjoy.
“Paddington” proves that great children’s films don’t need to be “childish.” While many of the films currently in theaters have sparked some controversy or another, there’s no quibbling here. You will want to cuddle “Paddington” all the way home.
Rated PG (for mild action and rude humor).