As I don’t have kids I tend to miss quite a lot of family-oriented films when they’re on at the cinema, like this update of the Paddington books and TV show. I’m glad I caught up with it at long last, as I enjoyed it way more than I was expecting to, and found myself chuckling along throughout; more than I tend to during most adult-oriented comedies, in fact. Paul King – who directed all three seasons of surreal comedy show The Mighty Boosh – is the man behind it, and he has created a winning blend of slapstick silliness and altogether smarter jokes, while also incorporating a timely subtext about London’s history of immigration, (eventual) tolerance and (eventual) acceptance, which made me ponder whether our detestable, oily snake of a Prime Minister has seen the film. The soundtrack, not without reason, features calypso played by a group of British African-Caribbean men.
The story of Paddington (entirely CGI here and voiced by Ben Whishaw), the bear from ‘darkest Peru’ (eeesh!), is well-known. The nice middle-class family who find him and take him in are the Browns, led by Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins, and to a certain extent they remind me of the Banks family in Mary Poppins. Even their home, which is creatively depicted as a doll’s house on a couple of occasions, is a modern version of the smart townhouse in Disney’s classic, and there’s a nice nod to Julie Andrews’ iconic umbrella flight here too (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and Raiders Of The Lost Ark also provide inspiration during the finale). Naturally after Paddington settles into his new surroundings a feature length story requires some adventure and danger for narrative propulsion, and Nicole Kidman’s evil taxidermist is introduced as a kind of wicked witch / Cruella de Vil-style villain. I really like Nicole Kidman here – quite simply she is great fun to watch – and she teams up with an equally-amusing Peter Capaldi, whose nosy neighbour is just one of the many send-ups of an old-fashioned, fussy England, a place where there are ’42 words for rain’ and meat paste sandwiches are still considered a delicacy.
King’s writing is sound: simple enough for young children to follow, but clever enough to keep adults interested and entertained. His warm-hearted film largely eschews crazy set pieces, save for breathless chases along Portobello Road or through the Natural History Museum, and instead relies on tried-and-tested sight gags, double takes, cutaways and other comedy staples (Hugh Bonneville in drag is far funnier than it ought to be). There are a couple of mis-steps – Jim Broadbent’s supporting turn as an antiques dealer doesn’t quite click, but is fairly short anyway – but otherwise I liked all of the performances; as well as those mentioned above Imelda Staunton and Michael Gambon provide voices for other bears, while Julie Walters steals every one of her scenes as the Brown family’s live-in cleaner. Paddington is streets ahead of most of the family-friendly films that I’ve seen in the past twenty years, and funnier than the majority of comedies I’ve watched in that time too, so it’s no surprise it did so well at the box office.
Directed by: Paul King.
Written by: Paul King, Hamish McColl. Based on Paddington Bear by Michael Bond.
Starring: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Nicole Kidman, Madeleine Harris, Samuel Joslin, Julie Walters, Peter Capaldi, Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton.
Cinematography: Erik Wilson.
Editing: Mark Everson.
Music: Nick Urata, D Lime featuring Tobago Crusoe, Various.
Running Time: 95 minutes.