A young Peruvian bear travels to London in search of a home. Finding himself lost and alone at Paddington Station, he meets the kindly Brown family, who offer him a temporary haven.
Growing up I remember watching the original Paddington Bear cartoons and then it materialising into the stop motion animation version. I’m not quite sure where I watched them, whether they were on BBC or I was simply put in front of an old VHS growing up, who knows, but the memories are there in some shape or form. It’s always interesting then when ‘they’, as a loose term for cinema and all its modern day technology, take your fond childhood memories and modernise them. Take Garfield, Scooby Doo, Alvin & The Chipmunks and Yogi Bear to name a few, all of which have been relatively mediocre. They either haven’t got the original charm, silliness, innocence or the CGI just makes it feel off.
It could explain why, going in with this preconceived notion that perhaps Paddington would fall into the same lower bracket as the remakes before it, that I finished watching it and felt that by comparison it had done a pretty solid job at keeping Paddington, well, Paddington. With rumours circulating beforehand around its classification (PG?!), there was a worry that it had been changed for the worst. Instead we are treated to a terrifically British film, with all the warmth you would expect from a film about a big cuddly bear.
The casting is excellent; from Ben Whishaw’s soft voice for Paddington, to Hugh Bonneville and the always charming Sally Hawkins who play Mr & Mrs Brown, with the nosey neighbour played by Peter Capaldi and Nicole Kidman as the pantomime-like villain meets Cruella Deville taxidermist, it is a true joy to watch this all-star cast come together for something so pleasant.
Although the plot was predictable, it didn’t stop Paul King and Hamish McColl having a laugh with the film as we went along. Rife with slapstick humour enough to please the inner child in all of us, with Paddington sheer clumsiness combined with his complete innocence, you laughed at him yet sympathised when things went awry. It was a guilty childish laughter, it just sort of escaped from me even though I felt like I shouldn’t have been laughing. It isn’t his fault he is a bear living in London, what a preposterous idea, of course he doesn’t know how to use sellotape or a toothbrush. Look at him try.
[Minor spoilers for numerous films ahead]
However, there are moments of seriousness, one of which occurred right at the beginning of the film when explaining Paddington back story for leaving Darkest Peru involving a death of one of the characters. An odd choice I thought, for a childs film, to include what could be perceived as such a traumatic experience so early on. After giving it some thought, I remembered back to Big Hero 6 where something similar happened at the beginning there too. Then they came flooding in; Finding Nemo, The Lion King, Tarzan, Snow White… all of these films contained deaths in them.
As expected, my thought was far from original, to the extent that the British Medical Journal researched and published a paper last December on it titled ‘Cartoons Kill’! It’s an interesting read, but their overall conclusion consisted of;
Rather than being the innocuous form of entertainment they are assumed to be, children’s animated films are rife with on-screen death and murder.
What did all of this mean? My theory: Aside from using it to teach somewhat valuable, emotional lessons to children on how to deal with grief (despite the nature of the killings consisting of “three gunshot deaths (Bambi, Peter Pan, Pocahontas), two stabbings (Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid), and five animal attacks (A Bug’s Life, The Croods, How to Train Your Dragon, Finding Nemo, Tarzan)”), it could be used as a method to settle the kids down only to build them up. Most of these happen at the beginning of the film – you take a hyper kid and their hyper friends, stick them in a film and where can you go from there? The answer: Death. Then they’re settled, they’re in shock and the only way to go from there is up. You take them up the only way a children’s film knows how.
A slight detraction I know, but one I found worthy of inclusion regardless. Nevertheless, it supports my view of Paddington itself, in that by bringing the mood down early doors, it was able to build up this pile of foolish, silly and good-natured fun, that left me grinning from ear to ear. It is a film that is near impossible not to like. I am sure there will be its detractors, those that feel the bear looked less like a teddy and those that feel it has ruined their childhood.
To those I say, get a grip. In my humble opinion, it is utterly charming, effortlessly enjoyable and one of the better adaptations in recent years. If you want to watch something to warm the inside, you cannot go far wrong with a marmalade eating, calamitous yet sweet bear whose profound and carefree nature is something we could all take a piece of. In fact, I’ll leave you with this quote from the bear himself;
Mrs Brown says that in London everyone is different, and that means anyone can fit in. I think she must be right – because although I don’t look like anyone else, I really do feel at home. I’ll never be like other people, but that’s alright, because I’m a bear. A bear called Paddington.
How adorable, you big silly bear.