Paddington That Marmalade Loving Bear From Across The Pond
By Scott Kurland
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, and the voice of Ben Whishaw
Director: Paul King
We’re four weeks into January, a month known for releasing some of the worst films ever. Some things will never change, but this year the unthinkable has happened. In addition to many bad films, January has pulled off the impossible. We just got the release of the highest rated and best reviewed film of the year so far, “Paddington”. That’s right, the marmalade loving bear from “Darkest Peru” not only comes to London, but also comes to the big screen. Let’s find out if it’s any good shall we? This is my review of “Paddington”.
“Paddington” (Ben Whishaw) is a young cub living in “Darkest Peru” with his aunt Lucy and uncle Pastuzo (Imelda Staunton and Michael Gambon). When tragedy strikes their home and Paddington can no longer live in Peru, his aunt sends him to London to find a family. Once arriving in London, Paddington is taken in by Mr. and Mrs. Brown (Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins) who learn that having a bear in the house might be the thing they need (even if said bear is destroying their house). However, a powerful taxidermist named Millicent (Nicole Kidman) has more nefarious plans for the young cub.
I must start out by saying this is a very impressive cast for a British film aimed at a child based audience. Not only do you have most of the teaching staff of Hogwarts from the “Harry Potter” series in this film. You also have a script that was secretly polished (meaning rewritten) by Emma Thompson, Professor Trelawny herself. Yet, with all the Potter stars involved, the true gem in this film for me was Sally Hawkins. Hawkins was most recently Oscar nominated for her incredible performance in last year’s “Blue Jasmine”. Yet, for me the role that made me love Hawkins was in Mike Leigh’s “Happy Go Lucky” where she plays a hopeless optimist named Poppy. That film defined Hawkins as an actress, and I never wanted that role to end. Mrs. Brown feels like the “Continuing Adventures of Poppy” for me. Poppy changed her name to Mary, and adopted a bear with her overprotected husband...you know the way it should be. Hawkins is so full of life in every role she’s in, and I dare you to watch this film and not love her...I dare you. Hawkins brings her charm to an already endearing film, but as we all know it’s not the humans we watch “Paddington” for, it’s the bear.
Originally Colin Firth was cast as Paddington. However, director Paul King realized Firth sounded too old to be this marmalade loving cub and Firth amicably left the project. Luckily, they found a capable Paddington in the form of Ben Whishaw. If you are unfamiliar with Whishaw’s work I can assure you, you have seen him before. Remember the new Q from “Skyfall?” Whishaw. Remember the charming pianist from “Cloud Atlas?” Whishaw. He’s a gifted actor who knows how to blend into the film roles he’s given. Voicing a red hat wearing bear is no exception. I may sound crazy but Whishaw makes you feel for Paddington. His voice acting is incredible. It’s honestly amazing what voice actors can do given how much they have to convey in a performance only having the spoken word as their tool. Whishaw uses the script to establish a curious and sensitive young bear, and he’s so good at doing the part as well. Whishaw is slowly becoming one of my favorite underrated actors of the last few years.
I was shocked to learn that “Paddington” was nominated for a Best Picture of the year BAFTA (a.k.a the British Oscar). I was downright flabbergasted, until I saw this film and realized what it has accompished. “Paddington” has brought back the family film genre. Back in the 80s and 90s we saw some excellent live action family films like “the Goonies”, “Babe”, and “Casper”. All live action films that had serious undertones at the heart of their stories. Yet, as 2000 approached we saw nothing but senseless comedies and gross out John Travolta films like “Old Dogs” and “Wild Hogs”. Director Paul King has lovingly crafted this film. The script he wrote with the help of Emma Thompson is not only clever and witty, it’s also sweet and dark. This is absolutely fantastic, because this is a clear example that a kid’s film is allowed to be, dark. It can be serious as often as it is funny. The bad guy can be smart and calculating not oafish and silly. “Paddington” is one of the smartest children’s films I have ever seen. It also reminds us that it’s OK to make a filmed aimed at adults as well as children, mainly because most parents seeing this film grew up reading “Paddington.”
“Paddington” so far is the best film of 2015. Granted the year is young but it’s such a delightful film. The cast is amazing, the script is endearing, and the entire film is magnificent to watch. It may seem like a child’s film and you may disagree with me, but if you want that nostalgic warm glowing feeling, do yourself a favor. Grab your kids or grandkids, load them into the car and go out to the movies. See “Paddington” and realize why London nominated it for the highest award in British filmmaking. I highly recommend “Paddington”.
Review Grade: A-