Thursday, 11 December 2014


Studio Canal

The last time big money was spent updating an iconic bear for the big screen and a younger generation we got Yogi Bear (2010). That loud and unfunny film's saving grace was its pro-environment message (and its Kevin Rudd-esque villain), but just what longtime fans of the mischievous bear with a penchant for pic-a-nic baskets made of it -- not to mention the Hanna-Barbera estate -- who's to say?

So it's completely understandable that fans of author Michael Bond's creation, Paddington Bear -- debuting in print in 1958, and appearing in a mixed animation TV series in 1975 -- would be wary of a big screen adaptation of the Peruvian-born Anglophile with an alarming marmalade habit. The good news is that Paddington is a fun, sweet family film which is at once modern yet faithful to its source materials.

With a swift and witty prologue explaining how Peruvian bears could come to speak the Queen's English and long to travel to London, it's not long before a young bear, spurred on by tragedy, finds himself stowed away on a freighter ship headed for the United Kingdom.

Under the illusion that the Brits are a welcoming people and finding a home will be a simple as being offered to come live with a local family, the bear (voiced wonderfully by Ben Whishaw) soon realises that the knowledge that he, his aunt (Imelda Staunton) and late uncle (Michael Gambon) had of ol' Blighty (passed on by an intrepid explorer) may be somewhat out-of-date (well, except for the weather: that's a constant).

But the bear is taken in by the Brown family -- a whimsical children's author mother (Sally Hawkins), po-faced insurance analyst dad (Hugh Bonneville), pre-teen son, Jonathan (Samuel Joslin), adolescent daughter, Lucy (Madeleine Harris), and housekeeper, Mrs. Bird (Julie Walters) -- and christened Paddington (his name as spoken in native bear being not-so easy to pronounce). Cue calamity after calamity -- for Paddington is an accident-prone bear -- and danger.

That danger comes in the form of Millicent Clyde (Nicole Kidman), a taxidermist with the British Museum who sets her sights on the Peruvian immigrant with the aim of adding him to her no-longer-living collection. Nowhere near as camp as Glenn Close's Cruella De Vil (from 1996's 101 Dalmations), Kidman makes for a rather chilling villain; her blonde bob and ice-water veins lightened somewhat by her interaction with Peter Capaldi's Mr. Curry; a curmudgeonly neighbour to the Browns who becomes smitten with the psychopathic stuffer.

It is the film's sense of humour, British but no less universal, which is one of the delights of Paddington. Amusing sight gags and enthralling action set pieces also help. And with the producers of Harry Potter behind it, and directed by Paul King (responsible for TV comedy The Mighty Boosh, and Bunny and the Bull (2009)), Bond's creation arrives on the big screen in safe yet irreverent hands; Paddington emerging in 2014, alive and free of mothballs.

And although rendered in CGI (the mix of live-action and animation a nod to the 1975 TV series, perhaps?), Paddington is a completely believable character. That's thanks in no small part to the voice work of Whishaw who makes the bear both a wide-eyed innocent yet someone who learns rather quickly just how the (Western) world works, and suggesting in his own quiet way how it should: Paddington's ethos of 'be adventurous but be polite' should endear him to a whole new audience.

Kids of all ages will eat this film up like so many marmalade sandwiches.

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