Release Date: January 16th, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Paul King Actors: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Imelda Staunton, Michael Gambon, Matt Lucas, Julie Walters, Nicole Kidman, Peter Capaldi, Jim Broadbent
n darkest Peru, a London geographer locates a previously undiscovered species of bear. A male, Pastuzo (Michael Gambon), and female, Lucy (Imelda Staunton), save the explorer’s life and take him to their home up in the jungle trees. In return, he teaches them English and plenty of human customs. Many years later, the couple’s nephew (Ben Whishaw) survives an earthquake, which forces Aunt Lucy to ship the youngster off to London to be adopted by a random, kind family.
Arriving with little more than a suitcase of marmalade and a red, floppy, tattered hat, the bear is soon taken in by illustrator Mary (Sally Hawkins) and risk analyst Henry Brown (Hugh Bonneville) for the night, and given the human name Paddington. Though the newcomer would be happy staying with the Browns, Henry is insistent that they locate a proper guardian, like the explorer who originally found the rare specimens. That night, Paddington sets about accidentally destroying the house, much to the amusement of the Brown children, Judy (Madeleine Harris) and Jonathan (Samuel Joslin), and much to Henry’s dismay, as he’s unable to purchase the necessary insurance in time for damages caused by a bear.
As Mary attempts to locate Paddington’s London expedition friend, an evil taxidermist named Millicent Clyde (Nicole Kidman) eyes the bear for her exotic collection. Expectedly, the out-of-his-element creature becomes a hero, makes the children’s lives better, and is deemed a danger by the adults. After numerous scenes of slapstick, montages of sightseeing and bonding, and action-packed misadventures, the boring, stuffy grown-ups join in on the fun. The theme of belonging and the Browns’ betterment by the stranger’s intrusion into their lives are a bit misplaced, considering that the family doesn’t appear particularly dysfunctional or broken up once Paddington opts to depart, for fear of disrupting complacency. There’s plenty of attempts at humor, though the majority of them are so juvenile that they could only be entertaining for the target audience of young children.
The quirky editing (except for ill-placed flashbacks and an excessive amount of references to “Mission: Impossible”), colorful sets, vibrant costumes, and a calypso band that seems to follow Paddington around for upbeat accompaniment, are visually artistic but comparably appropriate for undiscerning, easily diverted viewers. As in “Ted,” the phenomenon of a talking bear doesn’t seem to phase anyone, though the scenario isn’t adequately addressed, as if the characters all exist in an alternate reality – without establishing the setting as such. In fact, despite appearing like modern London, the technology doesn’t line up. Paddington’s anthropomorphism attracts even less curiosity than an abandoned child. When he unintentionally adorns a policeman’s helmet, other officers come to his help as if police bears are standard assistants. But, since the entirety of the picture is pure family-friendly fantasy, it’s not unwatchable. Plus, the animation is surprisingly top-notch, blending into the human environments just as effectively as in the CG locales.
– Mike Massie