Made in Britain: Paddington (2014)
I toyed with doing this under the whole Parenting banner, because Paddington is, obviously, a “family” film, but in the end I discarded this idea and housed it in Made in Britain simply because it’s just so quintessentially English.
When this adaptation was first announced, my heart sank as this “property” is a staple (and much-loved) fixture of British childhood, and there was nothing I’d heard since Lucas’s neck fold grew to cover his stupid fat mouth that contained as much potential for Kindertrauma. Based on the character created by Michael Bond, Paddington is a red hat and duffel coat wearing talking bear from deepest darkest Peru with a tendency towards acts of enormous unintentional fuckuppery and a fixation on marmalade sandwiches- how on earth do you get this across on the big screen without it descending into kitsch? Then they cast Nicole Kidman as a ninth rate Cruella De Ville knock off and the last remaining unmolested part of my fond memories curled up in the corner and began to cry. The only question left for me was: how bad is this going to be?
Contains delight and spoilers below.
Opening in olden times (1950’s or something) in Darkest Peru, Paddington starts with a quasi prologue about gentleman explorer Montgomery Clyde meeting semi-intelligent bears Lucy and Pastuzo who have the capacity for learning English and a fixation on marmalade. Fast forwarding to the present, the Bears natural home is destroyed by an earthquake and “Aunt” Lucy packs her nephew off to stowaway on a boat to get to London, as Clyde inadvertently filled their heads with an entirely unrealistic view of our capital city (i.e. that people are nice). So after a quick travel type montage we get to see our bear arrive in Paddington station, to be completely ignored by everyone, until kind-hearted Mrs. Brown (Sally Hawkins) overrules her husband (Hugh Bonneville) and kids, christens him Paddington and takes him back to her house in Notting Hill (actually filmed in one of London’s loveliest streets in Primrose Hill). In the meantime, villainous taxidermist Millicent Clyde wants to give Paddington a good stuffing to complete her collection and redeem her father’s name. Shenanigans, hijinks and adventures ensue, before the Brown family save the bear’s bacon and adopts him as part of their family.
Directed by The Mighty Boosh’s Paul King, Paddington is a simply great film. Stunning, and I bet that’s a real surprise to hear me, king of the miserable bastards, say. The potential for the makers to take a bit of my childhood and leave it crying on a soiled mattress in an abandoned warehouse somewhere was huge, yet they’ve avoided almost every pitfall that they could have hit to the extent that I honestly think this might be the best film of 2014, or at the very least a serious contender for that gong. The live action actors are great (Hawkins in particular is probably born to play this role in this kind of film), and the bear is well designed, animated, and perfectly voiced by Ben Wishaw. Sure, the taxidermist stuff is cut-price 101 Dalmatians shit, but it’s really only a subplot, and there’s great fun to be had watching Kidman pull a Mission Impossible style raid on the Brown’s house to capture Paddington (who accidentally wrecks the Brown’s house escaping from having a metric fucktonne of sawdust stuffed up his fundament).
It’s also intentionally funny on more than one occasion. Paddington learning that the English have thousands of words for rain, and then writing home to his aunt that he’s used 16 of them already is a good joke. As is the “Good Hard Stare” line, which comes from virtually nowhere. Really, the plot lends itself to fish out of water hijinks, and the film does indulge in them to some extent, but it never really wallows around in this too much. I could understand if it had, but there’s one very, very simple reason it didn’t: the dominant characteristic of Paddington is that he’s a total innocent. While naïve to the point of simplicity on more than one occasion, he’s not stupid and he knows when people are being dicks (hence the good hard stare sequence). To beat up an innocent with naff fish out of water gags for 80 minutes would have been both mean-spirited and out-of-place, as this is a beloved children’s character, and it would have pissed me off something fierce.
Which brings me on to the more intangible features of the film. Paddington has something practically no other film I saw in 2014 has: warmth and heart. It’s probably the most quintessentially English film (without being Misery Porn or Gangster stuff) I’ve seen in a long time, and the concept does verge on the whimsical so this isn’t hugely surprising, but it’s all delivered with such panache, and such affection that I honestly couldn’t see how you could possibly hate it. Yes, it’s an origin film of sorts, but it’s a lovely natured and genuinely pleasant one that (in my opinion) is highly appealing even if you aren’t familiar with the source material. Mrs. Jarv loved it, for example, and she knows nothing about Paddington, beyond it being an area/ station in London.
I’m coming up to the rating and conclusion in a second, but I am going to talk about the one thing stopping me from going all the way to a maximum for it: Cross dressing humour. Suffering fuck, will this plague never leave British comedy? The rules are as follows: Grossly unfeminine man dresses up as woman for spurious and over-engineered reason. Despite blatantly looking like a man in a dress, and sounding like a man in a dress, other man that he encounters will inexplicably find him massively attractive. Har-de-fucking-har. To be fair to Paddington, they do try a bit more than the base level, but it’s a schtick I’ve seen done hundreds of times in film and on TV and has never, once, been funny. I just wish it would go away, as I think we’re the only nation that still persists with it. Anyway, for your humble reviewer: Men in drag for comedic purposes= automatic dock of half a point, even in a film as otherwise lovely as this one.
Overall, this is a great film. I’m struggling to write this because I genuinely haven’t raved over a film as much as this one in a long, long time. In a year as generally moribund as 2014, Paddington stands out as easily the best kids film, and arguably, at the least, one of the best films full stop. I am genuinely chuffed to ribbons that not only is it actually good, but it also made a shit load of cash, so the sequel is already in production. If you’ve got kids, watch it with them, they’ll love it and you’ll, at the very least, get some enjoyment out of it. Even if you are a cold-hearted Aussie trashcan who suffers an allergic reaction to the presence of Nicole Kidman. I’m going high with this one and giving Paddington 3.5 adorable bears out of a possible 4.
I honestly can’t get over how good this film is.
Until next time,