Having grown up in England, Paddington Bear was one of those essentials of childhood. Much like Dr. Seuss, even if he wasn’t your particular cup of tea, you still knew the Paddington stories and understood the references.
My generation grew up with the FilmFair television series, which was narrated by Michael Hordern. Hordern also voiced the rabbit god Frith in Martin Rosen’s 1978 adaptation of Watership Down, another essential of British childhood. The FilmFair series was a combination piece: Paddington himself was done in stop animation but the other characters and backdrops were a series of two dimensional animated drawings. The series was originally broadcast in the latter half of the seventies, but was shown extensively in my eighties childhood. The animation style and music easily evoke my memories of childhood and home.
To introduce my eldest son to Paddington Bear had actually not crossed my mind, until I found out there was to be a movie. At that point I became firm in the cause that he should be acquainted with “the real Paddington” before being exposed to the new version. It is a peculiar trait of us geeks, that even something we only have a tenuous attachment to becomes “the real thing” the moment that a remake is rumored.
So we began with the stories, which he devoured night after night, and then with a few FilmFair episodes. To this bibliophile’s delight, he much preferred reading the stories with me than watching the animation, though he did find them amusing. And so, for a month before the movie’s release, our evenings were filled with the bear from Darkest Peru.
Then one cold January afternoon, while his brother was napping, and his father was languishing on the couch with this season’s must-have cold, we set out to the movie theater.
The movie had several things going for it at the outset. Firstly, they did a darn good job with the bear himself. The visual effect of the fur, the features, the movement, all seemed spot on in the trailers I had seen. Secondly, the casting was stellar. Hugh Bonneville is a must for any British film these days I feel, Nicole Kidman plays an excellent bad guy (as in The Golden Compass), and a glimpse of Peter Capaldi doesn’t hurt either, even though it is disconcerting to see him in such an awkward role.
One of the things I love about the Paddington stories is the simplicity of the adventures. There is no turning point needed to move the plot along, it moves along at its own pace and concludes with a marmalade sandwich. It is simple and comforting. For a movie however, you need a good catch, a foil, a bad guy, something on which the simple and comforting storyline hangs. In this movie, that is played out delightfully by Nicole Kidman as the exceptionally creepy Taxidermist Millicent. When her storyline first began to play out before me, I had a momentary flash of dislike for the use of such a story arc in my sweet, simple Paddington, but it is written so well, and acted so deliciously by Kidman, that my aversion departed as quickly as it arrived. Her backstory, so interwoven with Paddington’s himself, is wonderfully written.
There is much of Mary Poppins in this movie, in that the defining rooftop moment, while ostensibly about saving Paddington, is actually about saving the father from himself. Hugh Bonneville is delightful, both as a distracted and terrified father, and as an all-hands-on-deck dad. You never dislike him, you just feel sorry for him, and in turn for the kids. The kids are very well done, nicely updated for a modern movie but with elements of the older stories thrown in. This is something the movie does well, keeping it modern whilst also tipping its head to the original stories and setting. I suppose given that it is a Brit-centric movie featuring London, Paddington station, and The British Museum, it was bound to. Keeping the old and new together is something we Brits do well in our media.
Overall I enjoyed the movie. I was not bored, which is a must for a children’s movie in my opinion; a great children’s movie will entertain the entire family. It was not too predictable, there was an excellent twist in the main story line, and it was aesthetically pleasing. The score is fantastic, anything that incorporates Calypso music has my vote. Calypso music was quite common in my childhood music classes at Whitehall Infant School, so it is nice to see a nod to this part of “British” culture. The inclusion of the band, which was put together just for the movie, in several scenes was delightful. I took my five-year-old son with me to see this movie. He paid attention, he asked pertinent questions, and he asked to read more Paddington stories when we got home. Above all of that, he sat perfectly still for 95 minutes, and in Five Year Old Land, that makes for the highest rating! There was just enough fart humor for my son, and not too much for me. Just enough dialogue for me, just enough action for my son. I still can’t convince him to try marmalade though, even though his Nanny has offered to make some from scratch!
What I had not expected from this movie was the delightful back story of Aunt Lucy and Uncle Pastuzo. That I will not spoil, but I will say that this is one movie not to arrive late to. The first fifteen minutes are a treat that stands alone from the rest of the movie. Bring tissues.