It seems to be pretty easy to push out kids entertainment these days. Look at Dreamworks. Outside of the How to Train Your Dragon saga, they just throw anything on the screen and hope for the best (see Turbo and the upcoming Home for examples). Not that kids are less intelligent, but it seems more and more often, studios don’t really care about bringing a quality product that will appeal to both kids and the parents who are dragged to it.
Amidst the hits and misses that make their way to the screen, there always seems to be a few films that show that they aren’t talking down to kids, but working on their level, and that adults can have fun with them also. Films like The LEGO Movie did that and while it doesn’t have the same intensity as the other, it seems like Paddington can fit into that category as well.
What works so well in Paddington isn’t that the film ever tries to re-invent the wheel, but that it understands this metaphorical wheel and works within the constraints while still bringing a high level of creativity and imagination to a movie that could be written off due to its cliche plot and themes. Instead, writer/director Paul King infuses a degree of creativity that makes Paddington feel like something completely different when on the base level, it isn’t.
Paddington follows a young Peruvian bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw) who 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. The Brown family includes Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins.
While they struggle with managing the effects of having a bear live in their home, they must also keep an eye out for Millicent (Nicole Kidman), a taxidermist who has been searching for Paddington’s breed of bear all her life. She enlists the help of unsuspecting neighbor, Mr. Curry (Peter Capaldi), who is pretty much the British version of the old man across the street in Home Alone.
The film brings a degree of charm to it in the fact that it is very self-aware of its plot. It knows how insane the notion of having a bear who walks and talks in the middle of London, but it plays it off with wit and a well-written batch of humor. Whether it is Mr. Brown (Bonneville) saying that he doesn’t want what he is selling in the train station (but doesn’t even acknowledge the fact that Paddington just spoke to him) or the fact that Mrs. Brown (Hawkins) is able to walk him to a local shop to get some looked at without anyone going “oh there’s a bear in the middle of London!” is humorous in its own right.
While it was supposed to be Colin Firth doing the voice of Paddington, his replacement Ben Whishaw was able to bring out a lot in the character and his almost youthful innocence over Firth’s aged British diction seemed to work better in the long run. Not to say the Academy Award winner couldn’t handle the role, but the adorable ignorance that Whishaw brought to the part made it even more lovable than it already was.
But the real hero of the film was King, who could’ve pushed out “generic kids movie #4” for the year but instead infused a lot of cinematic moments that made the film feel like something fresh and new. Ranging from the writing in the sky as Paddington tried to track someone down to the Wes Anderson-like dollhouse approach to introducing and giving us a sense of each character in the family, the overall effect worked very well.
Paddington is one of those pleasant surprises that I love to find, especially when it happens to be a kids movie. I get so disheartened by some of the lazy efforts out there today, it is always refreshing to see a film that can work for both parents and adults while not taking itself too seriously and knowing how to have fun. In a time when movies like to dive into the darkest depths, it is refreshing to know that we will always have Paddington here to pick us up and roll down the stairs in a bathtub flood.