How exactly do you go about adapting a classic children’s character to the big screen?
Stay too true to the source material and you’ll miss out on the audience of hyperactive tweens; stray too far, however, and you end up with a soulless “product”.
It’s a crucial balance that too many films have failed to strike. Few British literary figures are as beloved as the duffel coat wearing bear – in terms of recognition he’s up there with James Bond and Sherlock Holmes. As such, it makes it all the more remarkable that Paul King’s Paddington succeeds as well as it does.
The film opens with Paddington at home in deepest, darkest Peru. He, his elderly Uncle Pastuzo (voiced by Michael Gambon) and Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) are a civilized bunch, living Swiss Family Robinson style, making marmalade, until a freak earthquake leaves them homeless.
Paddington is sent to London to track down a friendly British explorer who came to visit them years before. Instead he finds himself alone at Paddington station with no idea of where to go. It’s at this point the Brown family arrives to offer him an (albeit temporary) home.
The reason Paddington succeeds so well is primarily due to Paddington himself (voiced unassumingly by Ben Whishaw). Quiet, understated, and always impeccably mannered, he nevertheless causes well-intentioned mayhem wherever he goes. From running a bath to returning lost property, his shenanigans are delightfully inventive and the set ups for some terrific visual puns – bear left, anybody?
He’s also impeccably rendered, the perfect, fuzzy, “real life” embodiment of countless illustrations. Suffice to say, anyone who grew up reading Michael Bond’s books won’t leave disappointed.
That being said, the supporting cast are no slouches: Hugh Bonneville as fusty stick-in-the-mud Mr. Brown, Sally Hawkins as the kooky Mrs., Peter Capaldi as suspicious Cockney neighbor Mr. Curry. Classified as a PG due to “mild peril” – Nicole Kidman plays the film’s villain, a mysterious Cruella de Ville-like taxidermist – and the sight of Bonneville in a dress, Paddington is an utterly charming work of cinema.
It’s silly, heartfelt, and features Julie Walters as a hard-drinking Scottish housekeeper. Even as a hardened cynic, I challenge you not to take delight in it.
With The Lego Movie having seen us in and Paddington to see us out, 2014 has been a good year for kids’ cinema. This is laugh-out-loud fun that both embraces and enhances the nostalgia factor inherent in its premise; crucially, a film that will entertain children and adults in equal measure.
What could have been an unbearable desecration of a British icon serves instead as a surprisingly poignant adventure and a testament to the modern British film industry. There’s plenty of heart (and soul) on display here; to quote another famous bear tale, Paddington gets it just right.