By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
After 20 publications and three television series, folks who think there could not be anymore Paddington Bear serials should look again. The live action computer animated film simply titled Paddington is poised to deliver this beloved British institution to a new generation of youths to enjoy. After all, it’s tough to not fall in love with a young bear sporting a red ruffled felt hat, blue dusty duffle coat, and brown weather worn suitcase. He landed in Europe nearly two months ago and will soon hit North America January 16th.
In cosmopolitan London, nobody bats an eye at the fact that wild animals are allowed to roam loose. The fact that Paddington’s species speaks shows that this world is unique and to wonder if creator Michael Bond ever had a shared universe in mind, namely including Olga da Polga the Guinea Pig, that is most likely not the case. Instead, this story is about a prim and proper bear just looking for a place to belong. Ben Whishaw is wonderful as the new voice of this curious bear. After being displaced from out of a home in deepest Peru after an earthquake, his aunt decides it’s time for him to go experience life while she retires to a sanctuary for old bears.
Much of the film, like the TV series, are vignettes of him trying to settle in. Parts of “Please Look After This Bear,” “A Bear in Hot Water” and “Paddington Goes Underground” are used to set up his relationship with the Brown family. They find him at the station and offer him temporary residence until he can find an M. Clyde (Tim Downie), an explorer that Paddington’s family met long ago. What Clyde offered is a far cry to what Paddington experienced on his first day in a big city.
Their cranky and eccentric neighbour, Reginald Curry (lovingly played by Doctor Who himself, Peter Capaldi) catches wind, what transpires next is not based on the books at all. No mutual respect is developed till late and what’s explained felt too convenient. Some of the plotting is too predictable. What fans of comedy would expect to happen from an animal getting used to human conveniences felt more like American humour than British, and that’s when the flavour misses the boat. It’s like the producers want to bring humourous tropes from other films like Mr. Popper’s Penguins and Curious George into this story.
At least the plot that puts this story together in this film tries to unify how this bear’s misadventures follow one after another. Judy (Madeleine Harris) Brown thinks her family is not very normal and when she does not want to be labelled, Paddington’s presence not only upsets her life but also everyone else’s, namely Henry (Hugh Bonneville). As a risk assessment officer, he’s a far cry from what he was back in the days. What he gave up was for the sake of safely raising a family. Much like the Dursley’s in the Harry Potter movie series, all the patriarch wants is a normal life. With David Heymen’s producer credit in this movie, the similarities in how certain characters are developed are noticeable. There’s even a production element that’s similar. Thankfully, for Henry, he does come around quite fast.
As enjoyable as the movie is for its simple character developments, the real show is with why Millicent (Nicole Kidman) wants Paddington. She has a history with the bear, and that leads to a few dark moments that young children will not necessarily freak out to. Even Curry takes a liking to her. Capaldi’s moments really steals the show for true comedy, and when viewers know he is the Doctor, the wonder if a few jokes are going to be made has to exist. Paddington’s suitcase and hat is far bigger than it looks because of its infinite capacity to carry marmalade jars, but nobody is going to get that.
Hopefully more films will be made. Sadly, due to Capaldi’s commitments with Doctor Who, the chances of him participating in other works may be limited. Hopefully his contract can allow him to work in films between seasons. Without him to act as Paddington’s foil, especially in how the television series portrayed him, just what else can future films do? Will he get to travel the world and meet other anthropomorphized animals? Kids will most likely want more from this modernization of the classic series. To not develop more products will mean missing the boat on a still beloved institution. The books and half of the TV series still stands the test of time but lovers of this new cinema treatment will no doubt be begging for more.
When the CGI is top-notch and the fantasy is used in subtle ways to show the life that’s been reborn in the Brown house located in Notting Hill, there’s a new kind of magic in store. And that’s to see how the familial love grows.
3½ Stars out of 5