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  Paddington The Bear Facts
Year: 2014
Director: Paul King
Stars: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Nicole Kidman, Julie Walters, Madeleine Harris, Samuel Joslin, Peter Capaldi, Imelda Staunton, Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent, Matt Lucas, Tim Downie, Kayvan Novak, Geoffrey Palmer, Alice Lowe
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: Once upon a time there was a British explorer (Tim Downie) who travelled to Darkest Peru in search of rare beasts, and he hit the jackpot when he discovered a new species of bear in the South American jungle. These creatures were highly intelligent and keen to learn all he could teach them, and the pair he got to know became great friends with him in the relatively short time he knew them, eventually leaving with a warm impression of his homeland and the instruction to look him up if they were ever in the area. Time went by, and the two bears, Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton) and Pastuzo (Michael Gambon) looked after their nephew (Ben Whishaw), teaching him in turn, but when peril struck, he was fully prepared to move to London...

Michael Bond was the creator of Paddington, one of the best-loved series of children's books of the twentieth century, and a character which has endured thanks to the essential, gentle charm of the concept: a bear wandering around in London (and occasionally other regions, like France, as well) who nobody thinks twice about, they simply accept him as he is. There are no shortages of bears in children's literature, and Paddington was probably second to Winnie the Pooh in terms of fame, but Pooh Bear's big screen adventures were unmistakably Americanised by Disney's adaptations, and this first movie effort to feature Bond's hard-staring, marmalade sandwich addicted hero was resolutely British in that it demonstrated that acceptance of the foreign while staying true to the national character.

Of course, a couple of years after this was released the news stories were full of dismaying accounts of immigrants having a hard time of it after certain political outcomes, so had one film dated so quickly as this one? Not necessarily, as there remained a large contingent of Brits happy to investigate and welcome the experience of those from other countries, no matter that the population seemed to have been divided right down the middle with those who did not. Besides, Paddington was so well-versed in a particular, traditional kind of Britishness that he fit in rather well, he even had Whishaw's English accent to prove that, which was part of the humour of Bond's source material and made the bear come across as part of the past, as those books technically were.

Not in an outdated manner, more a cosy tradition with his love for marmalade sandwiches and duffel coat, not to mention his staying with the typical British family of the Browns who adopt him when they find him at the station. Mr Brown (Hugh Bonneville) is reluctant to give space over to an actual bear, no matter that he is pretty small, but his wife (Sally Hawkins) knows a needy individual when she sees one and wants to help out of the kindness of her heart, an important theme that does not make the more empathetic characters weak, but actually strengthens them once they open up to their sense of generosity and decency - antique shop owner Mr Gruber (Jim Broadbent, hardly in it) is subtly explained to have fled the Nazis as a child, and that message of inclusion and charity was a part of British life not often given much attention outside of annual telethons.

It did happen, of course, it happened every day, and that was the key to the Paddington stories, they were amusingly mundane in spite of their fantastical protagonist: he could have been a child's teddy bear come to life, as Pooh was. All of which made a pity that for this film debut director and scripter Paul King chose to yoke him to an adventure plot that tended to go against the quieter, more reserved humour of the originals, as Nicole Kidman was drafted in to play a crazed taxidermist who wants to kill and stuff Paddington as a museum exhibit, bringing up unwelcome memories of the crass Glenn Close 101 Dalmatians films. When King had got the look of the production so right, with its non-time specific era, evocations of Britain past and present and an animated lead that while obviously CGI had some expression that did not go over the top, that he chose to go so broad in many of its elements from the jokes to the villain (why did it need one anyway?) suggested a lack of confidence in some aspects. The good outweighed the bad, but unnecessary cartoonish exaggeration was never an element of the most perfect realisation of Paddington outside of the books: the Michael Hordern-narrated television series of the seventies. Music by Nick Urata.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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