Last year I went into Mr Peabody and Sherman with a certain amount of dread. Hollywood’s track record at adapting beloved franchises from the past has not been very good. Inspector Gadget, Yogi Bear, Smurfs, Lorax, TMNT, Transformers Cat in the Hat, Garfield are some of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. But to my great surprise Mr Peabody and Sherman was clever, funny, competently animated and an enjoyable time at the movies.
I had a similar experience with Paddington which is based on the popular children’s books by Michael Bond. The trailer was very slapsticky and a dreaded January release made me nervous. I was expecting the worst. But then I saw some youtube reviews from England praising the film and Rottentomatoes currently has it at 98%. So, I went to see it today with my friend and her kids and was delightfully surprised! Paddington is a completely charming family film.
If you didn’t know Paddington is about a bear family in Peru that are discovered by an explorer and taught English and how to serve tea and the joys of orange marmalade (the perfect food for a bear!). The explorer tells the bears that if they ever come to London they will have a home and about the child refuge program of WWII where orphans were given tags and left for strangers to welcome home.
An earthquake occurs causing the youngest Paddington to stow away and travel to London with a tag hoping to be welcomed. At first the English aren’t as friendly as he had hoped but he meets the Brown family led by the always luminous Sally Hawkins as the mother and the overly-cautious Hugh Bonneville as the father.
Paddington is clumsy and there are some Dennis the Menace moments with Mr Brown losing his cool at Paddington’s shenanigans but it was never over-kill and I enjoyed the scenes. The kids are initially resistant to Paddington which I thought was an interesting choice but it made their eventual kinship all the more endearing.
In many ways I think Paddington is very similar to a Muppets movie. In fact, 20 years ago he would have looked more like Fozzie the Bear instead of being CG. The key in a Muppets movie working is the human actors must play it straight while acting with a pig, frog, alien etc. That is what happens in Paddington. Nobody is surprised to be talking to or walking with a bear just like Kermit is treated like any other character in Muppets movies.
This helped us stay away from the ‘OMG he’s actually a talking bear’ scenes, which have been done to death and the bear getting civilized because he is already drinking tea and making marmalade to start.
He’s a klutz but pretty quickly the movie moves to the main plot trying to find the explorer and we get introduced to a taxidermist played with great gusto by Nicole Kidman (who’s face actually looked semi-normal in this).
She has some hilarious interactions with the Brown’s neighbor Mr Curry played by Peter Capaldi who falls for her charms.
Julie Walters is also great as the Brown’s aunt who lives with them. She looks so different from Harry Potter movies I hardly recognized her but is very funny. She senses the weather with her knees.
The script is so well done by Paul King and Hamish McColl and I laughed a lot. The kids around me were laughing a lot and of the 3 kids that came with me 2 really liked it and 1 said she didn’t. Not sure why but 2/3 aint bad!
The production design is so lovely. Whimsical without being over-the-top (like Tim Burton or Wes Anderson sometimes do). There is a tree in the Brown’s house that changes from summer, winter, spring depending on moods. The antique shop run by Jim Broadbent is perfect and the children’s bedrooms were magical without being cheesy.
Paddington reminded me of Babe. How many terrible animal kids movies have there been? Well, Disney has a pretty bad one with Home on the Range. But then Babe comes out which is funny, sweet, and lovely movie that for my money is one of the best family films ever made (with a very underrated sequel that is brilliant). I wouldn’t put Paddington at that level but I though it was really strong with a nice message about family, great design, very funny script and engaging performances. It’s just a winner.
It is also a pretty wholesome film- no innuendo or winking to the camera although some of the jokes may be funnier to adults it is never in an uncomfortable or unseemly way. One scene a character dresses in drag but it is played for laughs and isn’t offensive in any way.
There is also a scene where Paddington is in serious peril and a moment where the crowd watching gasped but overall it is a gentle movie the whole family will enjoy.
Any of you seen it? Would love to hear your thoughts and comments.
Content Grade- A+, Overall Grade- A+ (yep, I really liked it!)
This makes me hopeful for Peanuts. Maybe Hollywood can get 3 good adaptations of things I loved as a kid? Too much to hope for? We will see.
13 thoughts on “Paddington: A Review”
I’m glad you finally got the chance to see this film – and that you enjoyed it! After we’d commented about it before, I was a bit worried that you wouldn’t. (Meanwhile, it won’t be long till I can finally see Big Hero 6…)
The wholesomeness is one of the main reasons I liked Paddington: it just has a simple charm without the need for pop culture references or attempts at crude adult jokes, and there’s a lot of heart and good feeling throughout. The only things I didn’t like were the drag scene and that the villain seemed a little too dark at times.
Your comment about the Muppets makes me wonder how this film would have been if Paddington were a puppet. I don’t really see it working. Have you ever seen the TV adaptation from the 1970s where Paddington is stop-motion and everything else is 2D-animated?
I vaguely remember seeing that but didn’t remember the stop motion part. I want to revisit it now that I enjoyed this so much.
I think if it was a Muppet film it would be like Follow that Bird where Big Bird gets lost and sent to foster home. It has a similar mixture of tones. I guess the challenge if it was an outright Muppet movie is you’d have to include more than 1 puppet character which wouldn’t have worked. I just liked the way they played it straight like The Muppets as if there was nothing unusual about a talking bear.
What’s nice is you could sense a real affection on the whole project for the material and that doesn’t always translate to a good movie but here it did.
Have you seen the Paddington Walk in London? That looks so cute.
My worry with a lot of the European Disney bloggers is you have heard so much about BH6 you will go in biased to either liking it or not. How do you avoid spoilers and going in with preconceived opinions? I wish they would get it to you all sooner
You can find the old episodes on Youtube. No, I didn’t see the Paddington Walk: London is one of my favourite places in the world, but I happen to live on the other side of England so I can’t go there as often as I’d like.
I did like the whole treatment of the talking bear issue too, particularly as it was the same in the books.
Regarding Big Hero 6, I’ve made an effort to be careful about spoilers and I think I’ve succeeded. At least it’s not like Game of Thrones where they crop up everywhere you look. I’ve only read and watched a few reviews, which vary from people who loved it (like yourself) to Doug Walker who described it as very, very okay. So I’m expecting to be entertained to some degree at least, but I’ll be going in with an open mind.
That’s awesome. That’s a very good attitude for spoilers. I try to do the same when I watch and read reviews and keep an open mind. Honestly I think going in hearing bad things is almost better because you can be pleasantly surprised.
That’s cool you live on other side of England. I would love to go to Great Britain sometime. It looks so beautiful and full of history. Have you seen On a Clear Day? I’m an open water swimmer and I love that movie.
Hey I just heard that Great Britain is getting the new Avengers movie first so hopefully that balances out Big Hero 6. 🙂
I think it was Neil Gaiman who said that while America has geography, Britain has history. London is probably the best bit though. Sorry to say I’d never even heard of On A Clear Day until I looked it up just now.
It’s cute, heartfelt movie I’d recommend.
I’ve never read the books before.
They are very charming childrens books with a similar feel to the Madeline books.