You know there’s something odd going on when a kiddie movie about a talking teddy bear gets a 98 from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. And sure enough, there is: Paddington is really, really good. The trailer is somewhat unfortunate, as it highlights a physical comedy scene which is probably one of the more clichéd elements of the film. (The film features a lot of physical comedy but most of it has some originality to it.)
The main thing, though, is that Paddington never phones anything in. Each scene is loaded with jokes, big and small, so that the occasional miss is swamped by other jokes and general good-naturedness. A terribly pedestrian fish-out-of-water story featuring a gentle wife, nervous husband, peer-conscious teen girl and parentally restrained adventurous young boy is thus saved.
The plot, such as it is, concerns Paddington travelling to London from Darkest Peru, where (40 years earlier) The Explorer had assured his Aunt and Uncle that he would always be welcome. Of course, it’s 40 years earlier from the original 1958 publication date, so The Explorer looks like something out of H.G. Wells’ time, not the ‘70s.
Once in London, he takes up with the Browns, who agree to house him long enough to find The Explorer. But there’s a mystery afoot! There’s no record of any trip to Darkest Peru at the London Explorer’s Club.
Meanwhile, a mysterious and sinister taxidermist is seeking Paddington out for her own nefarious—and come to think of it, self-explanatory—reasons.
Much like the trailer, nothing in this review would actually compel me to go to see this film. But it succeeds by doing things very well. Despite having a ridiculously cute protagonist, it largely avoids trying to coast on said cuteness. This has a salutary effect on Paddington as a character: It gives him a kind of dignity he wouldn’t get from being a prop.
There’s also a decidedly unapologetic pro-English thing going on here, which is nice. Although Paddington has trouble at the train station, in most cases, the English people he meets are extremely helpful and polite to him. And they never once raise the issue of him being, you know, a talking bear. Wouldn’t be cricket.
Good comedy redirection, that.
The always appealing Sally Hawkins (Godzilla, Great Expectations, Submarine) and rather Firth-y Hugh Bonneville (from that “Abbey” show; I don’t know how I know the guy) are delightful as the Browns. Julie Walters (Brave, all those Potter flicks) plays the grandma character. A bit of stunt casting with Michael Gambon and Imelda Staunton (both late of the Potter flicks, too, come to think of it) as Paddington’s aunt and uncle.
Pete Capaldi, Jim Broadbent—you know, this had a hell of a cast, come to think of it.
Nicole Kidman, whose face has very nearly returned to normal, is perfect as the evil taxidermist. Really, she gets it just right.
Written and directed by Paul King, whom my only exposure to is commercials for his bizarre comedy series “The Mighty Boosh”. (And maybe I should watch that show given it was also the breeding ground of Richard Ayoade, who directed Submarine.) Presumably co-writer Hamish McColl, of various Mr. Bean movies, is responsible for much of the slapstick.
But at this point, I’ve probably oversold it. It’s good, very good even. Take a few points off if you don’t like physical comedy and it’s still really good. The Barb loved it, and The Boy, who had no interest, ended up in taking his girlfriend to see it, both reporting back positively (if not wildly enthusiastically).