By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Paddington is a talking brown honey-bear from “deepest, darkest Peru.”
And Paddington is his first journey to the movie screen.
Paddington Bear is a familiar and popular character in British children’s literature. He first appeared in 1958 and has since been featured in dozens of books, written by Michael Bond and initially illustrated by Peggy Fortnum, translated into dozens of languages, and featured on a number of subsequent television series.
An illegal immigrant of sorts, Paddington brings the population of talking brown bears in London to a total of one when he emerges after an earthquake destroys his jungle habitat, getting his name from the train station where he is discovered by the Browns, a family of humans who eventually adopt him.
He wears a floppy red hat and a blue duffle coat, carries a battered suitcase, and loves marmalade more than anything. And although he is ever so friendly, polite, optimistic, and kind, he is forever getting into trouble.
Giving voice to the CGI Paddington in this otherwise-live-action enterprise is Ben Wishaw, who replaced Colin Firth.
Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins play Mr. and Mrs. Brown, who have two small children. She immediately reaches out to Paddington and offers to take him in, while he –- always the sensible risk analyst — is strongly reluctant.
This charming piece also has a villain, as full-length features emerging from slim books are wont to do: Nicole Kidman essays a crazed taxidermist at the Natural History Museum named Millicent (in the Cruella De Vil vein, she’s the only character expressly created for the movie) who would love to capture Paddington and turn him into a prize exhibit in her museum.
The director, Paul King (Bunny and the Bull), whose background is in television, co-wrote the script with Hamish McColl, incorporating elements from various books.
Ultimately, it’s about longing and belonging, about welcoming strangers, preaching that being different is normal, and it opens with a backstory detailing exactly where Paddington came from and why he talks. And it’s all the explanation we need for a conceit that we are more than happy to merely accept and go with.
King’s veddy veddy British comedy sprinkles whimsical slapstick set pieces throughout, aimed mostly at the very young, and they produce a few chuckles. But it’s the film’s heart, rather than its head, that carries the day, even though the central theme resonates because the Paddington adventure has unmistakable universality in the struggles of a small outsider trying to fit in in a big new world. Welcome to childhood on this planet.
Or, come to think of it, adulthood as well, when, for example, immigrants must adapt to a new culture in the melting pot that is London.
Paddington is rated PG for “mild action and rude humor.” But this is about as close to a sweet and endearingly silly G-rated movie as you and your young’uns will ever see.
So we’ll pass the marmalade to 2½ stars out of 4 for the endearing anthropomorphic-bear family comedy, Paddington. The kids –- and perhaps you as well — will find this one especially easy to bear.