I know what you’re thinking. Cripes, another live-action family movie with an animated animal causing mayhem and mischief—all designed to make little kids pee their pants with laughter. But fear not—Paddington is not Alvin and the Chipmunks or Yogi Bear or Marmaduke or Garfield. In fact, it’s the most enjoyable flick of its kind in a good, long while. By far.
Based on the 50-year-old books by Michael Bond, Paddington is at once charming, fun, and wildly inventive. It’s a kids’ movie, sure, but make no mistake—there’s plenty here for adults to enjoy, too; it’s almost as if Pixar went British and expanded its universe to include live action.
A newsreel-style prologue (which echoes the one from Pixar’s Up), introduces us to Paddington’s aunt and uncle—“discovered” in Darkest Peru by a British explorer who insists they’d always have a home should they decide to visit London. Years later, after Paddington himself has come into the world, an earthquake destroys his home, and his aging aunt decides to take the explorer up on his promise. Before she heads to the local Home for Retired Bears, she puts Paddington on a steamer bound for London.
Once he arrives, Paddington meets the Brown family, three-quarters of which is instantly taken with the ursine addition. The only holdout is delightfully droll dad Henry (Hugh Bonneville), who is convinced Paddington belongs somewhere more suitable than their flat in Windsor Gardens. It’s here where we are presented with one of Paddington’s more charming themes—that a walking, talking bear is a little out of the ordinary in London, but it’s nothing so strange as to warrant arched eyebrows. It’s enough to make you expect singing flamingoes and prancing hippopotami in Leicester Square, but, alas, they never appear.
The cast, which features everyone from Sally Hawkins (as mom Mary) to Peter Capaldi (as the sinister neighbor Mr. Curry) to Nicole Kidman (as an even more sinister taxidermist), is spot-on and an absolute joy to watch. Clearly these people all read Paddington as youngsters and were determined to have their love and admiration of the source material come through in their performances.
First-time feature director Paul King, who co-wrote the refreshing and clever screenplay with Hamish McColl (Johnny English Reborn) occasionally goes the Home Alone route, with all sorts of broad humor (flooded bathrooms, kitchen fires, and the like), but there’s also a much more welcome, quiet and understated comedic heart that beats throughout. Paddington is a quirky, often whimsical journey, reminiscent of Wes Anderson—had Wes Anderson directed Stuart Little… and used a bear instead of a mouse.