Paddington review: he's small, furry, has a marmalade addiction and the star of a must-watch film

Deepanjana Pal

Jan 16, 2015 14:21:44 IST

He's 3'6", has a worrying marmalade habit, wears a red hat, speaks Bear and English fluently, is scrupulously polite and can be trusted to create a fabulous mess wherever he goes. Meet Paddington, originally from Darkest Peru, newly-arrived in London and by far the most adorable bear in the jungle of movies.

There are a lot of creatures coming out in the movies this week. There's the hunchbacked Vikram in I who is as agile as Paddington — he climbs drainpipes, Paddington slides down bannisters — but none of I's action sequences can match the sight of Paddington, in a bathtub, whooshing down a flooded staircase. Admittedly, the hero of MSG may well be more furry than Paddington. However, when it comes to warning people who are behaving badly, we feel Paddington's Hard Stare (effects include flushing and an acute sense of embarrassment) is much more effective than punches. Most importantly, Paddington wins the cuteness contest, paws down.

 Paddington review: hes small, furry, has a marmalade addiction and the star of a must-watch film

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Created by Michael Bond back in the 1950s, Paddington Bear is one of the most beloved characters from kiddie fiction in English. With his red hat and blue duffel coat, he is today as much of a London icon as the Big Ben or the guards of Buckingham Palace. You may not have read a Paddington Bear book, but chances are that its furry hero will look familiar to you.

If you haven't read Paddington Bear, rectify that immediately. Bond has written 26 Paddington books, so there's plenty to choose from. A hit TV series was created, based on these books but on the silver screen, Paul King's Paddington marks this small bear's debut, and the film is just as adorable as Paddington himself.

After an earthquake destroys their home in Darkest Peru, Aunt Lucy packs Paddington a suitcase of marmalade and puts him on a boat to London. The city feels far from welcoming to Paddington at first. To begin with, there are pigeons eyeing his last marmalade sandwich. People ignore him. The weather is distinctly chilly. In short, it's not particularly homely.

Fortunately for Paddington, Mrs Brown and her family spot him in the station, and bring him to their home. It's supposed to be for just one one night and there seems to be no possibility of extending that stay after Paddington manages to flood the house.

(It's not really Paddington's fault. No one warned him that beary ear wax tastes gross and that mouthwash is best sipped and not glugged. And really, who knew bathtubs could become boats so easily?)

Then there's the incident with the pickpocket whom Paddington chases by road and by air, earning himself a place on the front page of the newspaper. (Headline: "Peruvian growler catches Portobello prowler".) And really, the incident at the Geographers' Guild, in which Paddington's marmalade baguette gets stuck in the wrong place, was just unfortunate.

As you might be able to tell, there's never a dull moment with Paddington around and things become even more dramatic when the evil curator of the Natural History Museum decides she wants to add the talking bear from Darkest Peru to her collection of stuffed animals.

Paddington is an absolute delight. Ben Whishaw, who voices Paddington, has superb comic timing and with his voice pitched just a little higher than normal, Whishaw is the perfect small bear. That sounds terribly wrong considering how Whishaw looks in real life but is nonetheless true. Backing Whishaw up is a fantastic cast. Hugh Bonneville leaves the elegance of Downton Abbey to play Mr Brown, and he's almost as adorable as Paddington. After a long time, Nicole Kidman, who plays the taxidermy-loving curator, is in a role that she seems to have enjoyed. Michael Gambon and Imelda Staunton provide the voices for Paddington's Aunt Lucy and Uncle Pastuzo. There are pop-up appearances by much-loved British TV stars like Peter Capaldi and Little Britain's Matt Lucas. Author Michael Bond has a cameo too.

Along with Whishaw, the other gem in Paddington is Paul King's script (he co-wrote it with Hamish McColl) and direction. King blends live action, computer-generated imagery and animatronics beautifully. You'll never guess that there wasn't really a bear on the film's beautifully whimsical sets. From the Browns' dolls-house home to the gorgeously elaborate Geographer's Guild, the art department of Paddington outdoes itself.

Although King adds details and story elements, the film is as faithful to the spirit of the Paddington books as Paddington is to marmalade. King also gets special love from us for not casting a South Asian actor for character named Mr Curry. Without losing an iota of cuteness, Paddington has a poignancy that you wouldn't expect from an absurd story of a talking bear in London. Bond began the Paddington series in the post-war era and the images of European refugees, particularly children, arriving by train moved the writer to create a small bear who comes to London, looking for home. King updates this idea and his Paddington embodies the immigrant experience. This is done with great skill and subtlety, and there are no soapboxes in sight. Instead, calypso tunes that are filled with both the optimism and heartbreak of immigrants make up Paddington's soundtrack as he roams around London. One of the songs is this fantastic number by Lord Kitchener, "London is the place for me."

Paddington comes to London with a lot of the rosy notions about the openness of British society that Kitchener sings about in "London is the place for me", and of course not everyone is that welcoming. There are people who only see the differences, who want Paddington out of the neighbourhood, and those who see him as a specimen rather than a living being.

Still, there are Buckingham Palace guards who keep snacks and tea under their hats — finally an explanation for why those hats are so tall — women who will get drunk to protect a bear and men who will don a dress to help out a bear in need. There's hope yet for this world, so get yourself a marmalade sandwich and watch Paddington.

Updated Date: Jan 16, 2015 14:21:44 IST

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