Click on the poster for the official trailer.
"Please look after this bear... Thank you."
When BBC cameraman Michael Bond put pen to paper and began writing stories about a small bear from "darkest" Peru, he could never have imagined how his life would change. Today, Bond's Paddington stories have sold more than 35 million copies worldwide and have been translated into over 40 different languages. For me, the terrific Ivor Wood 1970s TV adaptations are a glorious part of my young childhood memories. Now a big screen adventure has finally arrived after years in development. Early word was a little worrying, with last minute casting changes and mild ratings controversy. But we really had nothing to worry about - Paddington is a loving and thrilling adventure that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen you can find. Having a little trouble with the facilities...
When a devastating earthquake destroys their home, the elderly Aunt Lucy sends her mischievous nephew to London - a place that they have only heard about from the effete British Explorer that discovered them and taught them the joys of British culture (mostly talking about the weather and dining a particular orange preserve). Despite finding England not quite the welcoming destination he was promised, he soon works his way in to the home and, eventually, the hearts of the dysfunctional Brown family - who help him try to track down the Explorer. But danger lurks around the corner, particularly in the form of the local taxidermist Millicent... Do you serve marmalade sandwiches?
Director Paul King is a self-titled Paddington aficionado and on this evidence there is no safer pair of hands for such a beloved children's property. He fully invests in the character, wisely keeping him front and centre of the whole film (something Michael Bay could have considered when adapting another of my childhood favorites!). And key to the film's success lies in Paddington himself. Our hero is wonderfully realized by CG wizards Framestore and animatronics guru Nick Dudman - a real example of how far and how effective great FX work can offer today's cinema. Not for one moment do you feel that Paddington is anything but the accident-prone but loveable little grizzly from Bond's stories. And then there is Ben Whishaw as Paddington himself. Credit to Colin Firth, who stepped aside when it became clear during production that his voice did not fit the role, but Whishaw conveys the perfect balance between naivety and good nature that puts the final glorious touches to one of the best characters in recent fiction.
King's second great trick is keeping the film's target audience as the entire family... No condescending tone for the kids and plenty of absurd humor for the adults - King and his scriptwriters (which include an unaccredited Emma Thompson) have worked up a treat. And then there is the supporting human cast. Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins superbly lead the way as the Brown parents and are ably supported by Peter Capaldi, Julie Walters and Jim Broadbent. In her best role in years, Nicole Kidman sports a credible English accent and savagely knocks Cruella De Vil off the podium as the new bad girl on the block as she endeavors to add our furry hero to her collection in the Natural History Museum.
It is also to the film makers' credit that the film takes plenty of risks as the story unfolds. Opening with a funny and affectionate poke at the old back-and-white Pathé Newsreels of yesteryear, we are then hit with a devastating earthquake that evokes emotions not felt since the loss of Mufasa and Bambi's mother. Paddington's first experiences of Merry Old England are enough to shame anyone thinking of voting UKIP (yes, perhaps he is an illegal immigrant - but woe betide Farage and his cronies if they even attempt to lay a hand on our intrepid hero!) and his adventures in the Capital are a near-perfect blend of slapstick and farce (Bonneville's ridiculously controversial cross-dressing scene is a wonderful example of that noble British pastime of transvestitism). In fact, it is almost impossible to note any misstep in the entire proceedings. And for that reason, Paddington is the perfect movie for this time of year. Do yourself a favor - get to the cinema and see it!
Not just one of the best British movies this year, but one of the BEST movies this year, Paddington is a note-perfect translation of Michael Bond's stories. A wonderful blend of comedy, danger and adventure that will have you reaching for the nearest marmalade sandwich and demanding a sequel!