Review: ‘Paddington’ is a Truly Endearing and Poignant Family Film

According to box office estimates, “Paddington” took third place behind “American Sniper” and “The Wedding Ringer” this weekend with a pull of nearly $19.3 million. One hopes that the figures will only continue to rise for the family film, which already set records in the UK for distributor StudioCanal last month.

The film tells the story of Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw), a loveable and naive bear from Darkest Peru, whose family encountered and befriended an explorer (Tim Downie) years ago. The bear’s aunt and uncle (Imelda Staunton and Michael Gambon), who can also talk, learned a lot about etiquette and jolly old England before the explorer departed for home. Skip forward years later, when disaster befalls the bears, forcing Paddington’s Aunt Lucy to send him to a new life in London. He’s equipped with only a suitcase of marmalade and a tag on around his neck asking for someone to care for him.

At Paddington station (inspiration for his human name), he’s taken in temporarily by the Brown family until they can find him a permanent home. Or perhaps until Mr. Henry Brown (Hugh Bonneville) can convince his wife, Mary (Sally Hawkins), to take Paddington to the authorities and the not-orphanage. Also comprising the family unit is their son Jonathan (Samuel Joslin), daughter Judy (Madeleine Harris), and housekeeper Mrs. Bird (Julie Walters). However, lurking around is an evil taxidermist (Nicole Kidman) set on adding Paddington to her collection, with initial assistance from the Brown’s neighbor, Mr. Curry (Peter Capaldi).

Surprisingly, that is the gist of the main plot for “Paddington:” a storyline that is so simple yet doesn’t fail to capture your heart by the end. Paddington is a very clumsy bear, which does much to provide misadventures as the Browns help him look for the truth about the expedition to Darkest Peru. However, none of these antics seem as overly silly, as is wont to happen in kid’s movies. For once, we also have a family movie where the family generally gets along. Often a feud between parents or children and parents is emphasized far too much at the expense of the story. Instead, most of the little episodes are packed with meaningful and hilarious moments that also serve to impart little lessons along the way.

“Paddington” is a beautifully executed family film for many reasons. First, the casting is quite seamless with the likes of Bonneville, Kidman, and Capaldi. “Downton” fans in the U.S. probably relish the opportunity to see Bonneville in a purely comedic role, as he vaults straight off of the likes of the “Downton” spoof and “Galavant.” Both Kidman and Capaldi play characters that could easily strike one as over-the-top, but they expertly navigate that tightrope (Mr. Curry’s crush on Millicent) in their serious portrayals. Other talented actors like Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton, and Geoffrey Palmer do much to add to this magical atmosphere despite their short screen (or voice) time.

I would be remiss to mention that “Harry Potter” and “Gravity” producer David Heyman was also on the team for “Paddington,” which perhaps explains a lot. There’s such a good flow to the film, which is full of so many little details. Take for instance the train set that carries the tea and cakes to the table. It transitions right away to Mr. Gruber’s (Jim Broadbent) backstory as Paddington is still gazing at the little train. Sometimes the CGI appears as though it could be slightly better, but it’s quite impressive just how real Paddington the bear looks in his surroundings.

Additionally, “Paddington” is a decidedly British film, sparing little when it pokes fun at English sensibilities and elements of the culture. It does so without descending into jokes or language that Americans wouldn’t be able to understand, which is quite a relief. The comedic moments are refreshingly funny to both adults and children, a characteristic that has been lacking in many family flicks as of late. Therefore, “Paddington” is also a very universal film that will delight international audiences with Paddington’s journey to find a home and acceptance. So gather the whole family and head out to see “Paddington” for a memorable experience.

Oh, and there’s already talk of a sequel.

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