The first big screen adventure for everyone’s favourite marmalade eating Peruvian bear. But is it a grizzly failure? A bearable outing? Or does it deserve a round of app-paws?
I’m actually really sorry for that last one. Really, I am.
After a funny and then suddenly heartfelt intro sequence, the film faithfully adapts the first couple of Paddington adventures as the stow-away bear is found on Paddington station, taken home by the Brown family and then calamity strikes as he has difficulty using the bathroom facilities. Fans of Michael Bond’s Paddington novels and the classic 1970’s animation will know that his adventures and humour derive from everyday events going wrong due to a mixture of cultural misunderstandings and Paddington’s clumsiness; so a plot involving Nicole Kidman’s super-evil ice-queen torturing taxi-drivers and breaking into houses through a skylight Mission Impossible style so she can capture Paddington, have him stuffed and put on display in the British Museum is quite a radical shift in tone. I understand the need for the plot to compete with the standard ‘save the world’ box-office fare, to need keep the kids entertained and to actually have a plot that can sustain a feature-length run-time, but older viewers may feel that some of the essence of what makes the little bear so special has been lost.
Paddington is a curious missed opportunity to make a true family film to appeal to all ages. There is plenty for the kids to enjoy, but precious little material in the script to appeal to parents dragged along by excitable five-year olds; beyond a neat visual reference to Indiana Jones and a laboured and unfunny sequence with Hugh Bonneville in drag. Expecting the next Toy Story would have been unfair, but with so many recent movies appealing to both adults and children alike (The Lego Movie being a great recent example) and becoming run-away successes because of it; not to mention the affection audiences of a certain age have for the character, then Paddington’s narrow focus on children seems like the bear minimum.
Ben Whishaw is a perfect voice for Paddington, and his delivery style reminds of narrator Michael Hordern from the classic cartoon series and Hugh Bonneville makes an excellent comedy straight-man for Paddington who also has a few killer lines. The supporting cast are largely fun, including Peter Capaldi as the Brown’s ill-tempered neighbour Mr. Curry, Matt Lucas as a verbose taxi-driver, and Jim Broadbent is clearly having tremendous fun playing Mrs. Brown’s eccentric antique-dealer friend Mr. Gruber – a shame then that he’s barely in it (pun intended).
Mrs Brown is a bit of a misstep through no fault of the very talented Sally Hawkins; changed from the stern but fair character of the stories into a hippy so lax, care-free and away with the fairies she barely seems credible as a functioning adult, never mind being anyone’s mother.
The Verdict: A serviceable rather than spectacular start for Paddington on the big screen. It’s colourful and fast-paced enough – and laced with just enough humour – for parents to get through, and the kids will no doubt love it.