Popular culture is well-stocked when it comes to lovable bears. A visit to any toy store will yield an array of stuffed options and plenty of icons like Fozzie, Pooh and even Smokey.
The new film “Paddington” tells the back story of the well-mannered bear in the blue coat. It’s a nice family-friendly flick that balances some zany visual comedy against an understated British sense of humor.
According to a documentary reel that kicks off the movie, Paddington picked up his British sensibilities in Darkest Peru, far from the United Kingdom. Years before Paddington was born, a British explorer named Montgomery Clyde (Tim Downie) discovered Paddington's Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) and Uncle Pastuzo (Michael Gambon) in the jungle. Clyde taught them to speak and trained them in the finer parts of English culture. Before leaving he gave the bears an open invitation to drop by if they ever were to swing through England.
When the film arrives at the present day, we learn that Lucy and Pastuzo have long enjoyed an idyllic existence in their jungle home. Life revolves around their yearly marmalade canning effort, as well as young Paddington, who joined them after the untimely death of his parents.
But shortly after getting a taste of this home, an earthquake destroys it, and Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) is sent to England to follow through on the explorer’s promise. Packed with a generous load of marmalade and wearing the explorer’s red hat, the young bear eventually makes it to Paddington Station in London, where he is temporarily taken in by the Brown family and given his human name.
Early on, Paddington’s only advocate is Mrs. Brown (Sally Hawkins), who has to work hard to convince Mr. Brown (Hugh Bonneville) not to take the bear to the authorities. The children aren’t crazy about their new roommate, either. They’re far too preoccupied with the trials of adolescence to be bothered.
If that weren’t enough, a true antagonist is hot on Paddington’s marmalade-stained trail. Nicole Kidman plays Millicent, a sadistic taxidermist who is anxious to add the bear to her grisly collection.
There’s not a whole lot of suspense here, though it’s hard to believe that suspense is what director Paul King was going for. “Paddington” is really about the nature of home and family, and it’s plenty of fun watching the bear stumble his way around his new adopted home.
Bolstered by an array of familiar British veterans, the cast is a great help to the film’s cause. In addition to the leads, the twists and turns of the story take viewers to an antique shop run by Jim Broadbent and a geographer’s guild headed by Geoffrey Palmer. British wit and subtlety is on display throughout the film and is especially welcome as it balances out the story’s slapstick elements.
Aside from its humor and its cast, audiences may also judge the film on its visual style. At times, such as when the camera pans across the Brown family home as if it were a dollhouse, the visuals echo the film’s clever charm. Paddington himself is a CGI creation, and though he appears to have been designed to appear natural, the animated bear retains enough of a cartoon feel to suit the movie’s comic action.
Overall, “Paddington” is probably best suited for the younger members of the family, though it’s clever enough to offer something for Mom and Dad also. It’s a fun but understated film that feels like an appropriate fit for the post-holiday film schedule.
“Paddington” is rated PG for some vulgar humor and mild action violence. If you can handle the sight of an animated bear scrubbing his ears with a toothbrush, you should be OK with this one.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. Find him online at https://www.facebook.com/joshterryreviews.