Trailers can be a most deceiving practice. A film can be cut to look like it is something else. This can work for a film or work against it. The TV trailers for Calvary this year made it look like a knockabout comedy (It is not). The first trailer for Paddington made it look like a film with far too much slapstick and bad CGI (also look out for the early posters which spawned the ‘sad Paddington’ meme). Nicole Kidman also stated that she thought it would be too dark for her children to watch (utter nonsense). Suffice to say it wasn’t a film I was considering venturing to the cinema to see. But as is the way with these things, a stint of babysitting over a recent weekend gave the idea a measure of possibility. There had been some great reviews in the English newspapers but they were”
hard to take on trust given the ‘Englishness’ of the character. Extra stars appeared mandatory as long as it wasn’t a disaster. And to my pleasant surprise Paddington turned out to be most enjoyable indeed.
The film begins with a grainy black and white origins section in colonial times set ‘darkest Peru’ (this is one the better rolling gags in the film. Darkest Peru becomes the name of the country). It doesn’t take too long until our titular hero turns up in London. He is there to look for the explorer that found his family years before but ends up living with the Brown family who need him more than they know. Mr. Brown (Hugh Bonneville) is fussy and strict, Mrs. Brown (Sally Hawkins) is kind-hearted and their two kids, who need the kind of friendship that Paddington can offer. But trouble is not far away in the form of a dangerous taxidermist (Nicole Kidman regurgitating her performance from The Golden Compass) who wants Paddington stuffed. She gets help from a nosy neighbour Mr. Curry (played very nicely by Peter Capaldi, giving it a touch of Alf Garnett).
The first thing to say is that Paddington is pretty far from the film the original trailer suggests. It is a fine family film that all ages will enjoy. There are some farcical set pieces that build well and pay off in spades, in particular a scene with an escalator which provides some great laughs. But what sticks most is how director Paul King and co-writer Hamish McColl have skilfully weaved a paean to immigration throughout the narrative. Paddington is from ‘Darkest Peru’ and his naïve hope that London will welcome him with open arms is very moving. He travels a very long way and clearly loves his adopted home town. There is even an inspirational speech at the climax defending Paddington and all who make the treacherous journey to a better life.
The CGI bear that they have created for the film initially jars the first time he is seen but credit must surely go to second choice Ben Whishaw (Colin Firth dropped out), who brings the character to glorious life. His understated reaction to the chaos he creates is a joy. Capaldi, Bonneville and Hawkins give fine turns in the supporting roles. Kidman is fine, even if the part is not entirely necessary, as the plot-heavy third act is rather pointless for the most part. Paddington stands out in an increasingly crowded children’s marketplace precisely because it understands its target audience. There are jokes for kids and for adults (including a fine risqué one at the beginning) but crucially it manages to portray the melancholy and loneliness of coming to a new country without alienating the family audience. That is what makes it the fine film it is.