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).
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.