When I first heard about Paddington, I was not convinced the film would work, hell I did a post when the first poster was released about it. As time as gone on though, and I’ve heard more about the film, my optimism regarding Paddington has only increased, buoyed by the overwhelmingly positive reviews. After seeing Paddington, I have to say the reaction has not been overstated, Paddington is a lovely film, one of the best family films of the year.
The plot of the film is a modernised version of the first Paddington story. After a British explorer comes to Darkest Peru and encounters Paddington’s family, he tells them that they are welcome in London if they ever leave. After an earthquake destroys Paddington’s home, killing his Uncle Pastuzo, Paddington decides to go to London, with his Aunt Lucy moves into the Home for Retired Bears. At Paddington station, Paddington is taken in by the Brown family, who give him his name. At the same time, a taxidermist working at the Natural History Museum finds out about Paddington’s arrival and wishes to stuff him and put him on display. The main thing I find interesting in the film is how the film relates the modern conceptions of immigration to the story of Paddington, the main area being in setting the film in Notting Hill and the initial reaction to Paddington. The setting allows the film to show off the current, multicultural landscape of London, whilst the initial reaction to Paddington reflects the attitudes to immigrants in a society where UKIP is a major party. Initially, Paddington’s story about the earthquake and the explorer isn’t believed, with Mr Brown wanting to send Paddington to the authorities, where he would most likely end up in a facility like Yarl’s Wood, whilst neighbour Mr Curry is fearful that Paddington living on his street would lead to a rising number of migrants in the area. However, the film shows that these attitudes are held by people with no experience of immigration and once people see the overwhelmingly positive impact that migrants have, they become more open to them. This point is further brought across by Mr Gruber, who is shown to have arrived in the UK through the Kindertransport, showing how once we opened our doors to refugees but now we are more likely to close them. All of this has made the film sound too heavy for a family film, if you change the names my description could of this could also be one for Bruce Goodison’s Leave to Remain, but at it’s heart, the film is incredibly warm and friendly. As I said, the films shows how positive an influence Paddington is on the lives of the Brown’s and how migrants bring a positive influence to London, especially seen through repeated appearances by a West Indian band throughout the film. The film is also really funny, from the opening spoofing newsreels and 1930s explorers, to the slapstick moments the film is consistently funny. There are even a few adult jokes in there, and by that I mean jokes that children probably won’t get, for example, there’s a scene where we find out Judy Brown is learning Mandarin so she can move to China to start a business in the future, and one of the phrases she learns is ‘I have been indicted for tax fraud and require legal representation’ which I found to be a really funny line.
A lot of the charm in the film comes through with the cast. Whilst I was initially troubled when Colin Firth was replaced at the last minute by Ben Whishaw, after watching the film I have to say that Firth’s voice wouldn’t fit the character. There’s this brilliant sense of youthful naivety that fits the character of Paddington in Whishaw’s voice than Firth wouldn’t have captured. Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins are great as Mr and Mrs Brown, with Hawkins bringing across this really kind hearted performance whilst Bonneville has the major character arc of the film, going from ignoring Paddington when he says he will end up sleeping in a bin to someone who considers Paddington family, and he portrays this arc perfectly. Madeline Harris and Samuel Joslin as Judy and Simon Brown do great work, providing a lot of the heart of the film through their interactions with Bonneville and Hawkins. Julie Walters meanwhile is a lot of fun as Mrs Bird, Jim Broadbent does great work in his one scene appearance as Mr Gruber and Peter Capaldi is one of the comedic highlights as Mr Curry, playing one of the most brilliantly pathetic characters of the year. Imelda Staunton and Michael Gambon meanwhile are a lot of fun as Aunt Lucy and Uncle Bastuzo early in the film and I wish they were in the film longer. Nicole Kidman also does a great job as Millicent, the villain of the film, having this threatening air throughout the entire film. The film also has a lot of cameo appearances from some of the best British comedy actors working today from Horrible Histories’ Simon Farnaby to Sightseers’ Alice Lowe and Steve Oram to Four Lions’ Kayvan Novak, Little Britain’s Matt Lucas and The Thick of It’s Justin Edwards and Will Smith. All these cameos were a welcome addition to the film for me, with a lot of them having some good comedic moments, although all of them could have been in the film a bit longer. Still, the film knows where the focus should be, and that’s on Paddington and the Brown’s.
The technical aspects of the film are also excellent. Paul King fine tunes the brilliant visual style he showed in Bunny and the Bull and creates some brilliant images, in particular the Geographers Guild, with all the pipes and clockwork, along with the dollhouse style structure of the Brown House, and the mural on the wall. All of these striking visual elements help add to the world of the film and King allows all these elements to work together brilliantly. King also brilliantly shows the threatening nature of certain locations, adding to the overall atmosphere of the film. The best part of the technical side of the film though is the CG used to create Paddington. The CG is blended in incredibly well with the rest of the film, which is especially impressive considering the low budget of the film, at least compared to other family films. The animation meanwhile fully shows off Paddington’s emotions and reactions to the environment and Ben Whishaw’s voice fits perfectly with the character design, it’s a great piece of effects work.
Overall, Paddington is one of the best family films to come out in a long time. I was initially hesitant but Paul King has crafted a nice, lovely piece of work with a top notch cast, brilliant writing and direction and a great sense of charm and innocence all the way through, celebrating the multicultural nature of London and how this is a society that we should strive for.
My Rating: 5/5