We live in remarkably ironic times, especially where movies are concerned. Virtually everything is a remake, an adaptation, or a sequel, and many of those films lose a whole lot in the translation, simply because someone decides that the material should be darker, snarkier, or self-referential to the point of parody. Fortunately the British seem to maintain a firm sense of tradition, which is why the enjoyably old-fashioned Paddington movie feels more like a labor of love, and less like a cynical cash grab.
Based on Michael Bond’s widely-admired series of children’s books that began in 1958, Paddington is about a young, clumsy, and very polite young grizzly bear who leaves his home in Peru and travels to London to find a new family. He quickly finds a potential match in the Brown family, but the little bear’s talent for causing chaos — and Mr. Brown’s very short fuse — means that Paddington may quickly wear out his welcome. In traditional “family flick” style, there is a broad yet nefarious villain who wants the talking cub for her own selfish purposes, but director Paul King (The Mighty Boosh) keeps the film from ever devolving into a parade of clichés or a copy of the well-established Disney format.
The screenwriters also earn solid points for good behavior. Unlike many cinematic adaptations made “for kids,” Paddington doesn’t have anything in the way of rude behavior, kid-friendly expletives, or jokes related to bodily functions. It takes a certain level of maturity to maintain this level of sweetness (and it’s probably really tempting to throw a few fart jokes in, because those are always an easy laugh), and it’s just nice to see a well-regarded literary character brought to the screen for children with this degree of sincerity.
Frankly speaking, Paddington is not a joke-laden comedy that will appeal to kids and parents in equal measure; it’s a movie for kids, and what Paddington lacks in “gags for the grown-ups,” it more than makes up for in sweet moments, quiet wit, and a few nice lessons about family, loyalty, and kindness. (And what parent won’t appreciate that?)
The cast, not surprisingly, is a who’s who of mostly British actors, and everyone seems to be having a good time: Hugh Bonneville is a doting dad who worries just a bit too much; Sally Hawkins is his endlessly sweet-natured wife; Nicole Kidman plays it colorfully, but doesn’t go overboard, as the amusingly nasty villainess; and the background is peppered with folks like Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, Peter Capaldi, and the voices of Imelda Staunton, Michael Gambon, and Ben Whishaw as the titular bear.
It’s safe to say that Paddington Bear is to the UK what Snoopy is to the US, or at least close enough, and I think we’d all be pretty pleased if the upcoming Peanuts film feels a lot like this Paddington adaptation. Kids get plenty of movies that are loud, raucous, and (frequently) obnoxious, so it’s always nice to see one that goes in the opposite direction. It’s hard to say if the U.S. box office will embrace Paddington’s new movie like his home nation has, but don’t be surprised if it’s a flick your kids fall in love with once they do catch up with it.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 marmalade burritos