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Overall Rating
4.47

Awesome: 46.67%
Worth A Look53.33%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

2 reviews, 3 user ratings


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Paddington
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Worth A Visit To The Cinema"
4 stars

Having seen many a favorite of children's literature mangled beyond recognition through garish, noisy and unseemly screen adaptations (such as "The Cat in the Hat," "Stuart Little" and too many others to mention here), I must admit that the idea of a live-action film based on everyone's favorite ursine character from the depths of darkest Peru filled me with no small amount of dread. However, "Paddington," the first big-screen adventure of Michael Bond's beloved character, is an undeniable charmer that is smarter, sweeter and funnier than most people might have expected.

As the film opens, Paddington (voiced by Ben Wihishaw) is living in the jungle with his beloved aunt and uncle and ready supplies of his even-more-beloved marmalade. When disaster strikes, he sets off for London in search of an explorer that discovered his family years earlier. Landing in Paddington Station with no idea of where to go, he is taken in by the Brown family--consisting of an overly protective father (Hugh Bonneville), a warm-hearted mother (Sally Hawkins) and kids Judy (Madeline Harris) and Jonathan (Samuel Joslin)--for the night with plans to turn him over to the proper authorities the next day. Of course, that never quite happens as the gentle bear works his way into their hearts and inspires them to truly come together as a family for the first time in a long while.

As keeping with the source material, the narrative of "Paddington" is not especially complex and can pretty much be grasped by younger viewers easily enough. Most of what transpires involves Paddington trying to come to terms with his new surroundings and usually getting into mild forms of trouble and mischief that kids can appreciate--his struggles to master a roll of Scotch tape, for example. What conflict there is arises with the arrival of Millicent (Nicole Kidman), a crazed museum taxidermist who is hellbent on adding Paddington to her collection and goes to extraordinary lengths to try to capture him. At the risk of drifting into spoiler territory, I can assure parents that the film does not depict our hero being posed in a glass case but I should also warn that there are a couple of images here and there that might cause distress in more sensitive viewers.

In bringing "Paddington" to life, writer-director Paul King has successfully managed to create a relatively large-scale cinematic enterprise, complete with a CGI bear at its center, that nevertheless maintains most of the eccentric charms of the original stories. He sets his tale in a nicely stylized version of London that blends together several different eras (do not try to establish any sort of time line as that is the way to madness) along with a pleasant storybook feel that allows the real and the fantastic to coexist. (I love how no one in the film seems especially surprised to see a walking, talking bear amongst them, especially one in a blue coat and a rumpled red hat.) Instead of trying to knock viewers out with hard sell wackiness, gross out humor and elaborate action set-pieces throughout, it chooses a more gently whimsical approach that perfectly suits the material and when it does make a move into broader territory, it almost always manages to find a twist to make those moves charming instead of irritating. For example, there is an elaborate centerpiece sequence in which, through complications too involved to get into here, Paddington finds himself in wild pursuit of a pickpocket through the city streets while wreaking no small amount of havoc along the way. At first, this sequence annoyed me a tad--it felt like an excerpt from the inevitable tie-in video game than an organic part of the story--but the eventual punchline to the proceedings is so droll and witty (even though it will fly over the heads of many an American audience) that it makes the entire thing worth it for that laugh alone.

Another element that works in the film's favor is the smart casting in all the key roles. Although brought in at the last minute to replace the vocal tracks already recorded by Colin Firth (though I am convinced that you can still hear Firth doing a couple of lines), Ben Whishaw finds just the right tone for Paddington--earnest, inquisitive and, most of all, polite--and goes a long way towards selling him as a believable character. As the villainess of the piece, Nicole Kidman is a lot of fun--this may the loosest and most entertaining performance she has given in quite some time--and I suspect that her Tippi Hedren hairstyle (another odd aspect that winds up paying off nicely in the end) and borderline kinky behavior (for those who enjoy reading between the lines of kid-oriented films in search of any form of perversion, there are a few moments where it seems that she has much more on her mind than merely stuffing Paddington) may help jump-start puberty in some viewers. A lot of top British actors--Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent, Imelda Staunton and Julie Walters among them--turn up in smaller roles, presumably out of love for the character, and liven things up considerably along the way. Best of all is the absolutely inspired casting for the role of Mrs. Brown--if ever there was someone out there who was not only born to play a woman so kind and big-hearted as to willingly take in a talking bear off the streets to live with her family without a single moment's hesitation but who could make such a character entirely believable, that person is Sally Hawkins.

I liked "Paddington" a lot but of course, I am hardly the target audience for such a thing. Will today's kids like it--hell, will they even be able to sit still for a film that doesn't involve elaborate special effects, explosions, fart jokes, pratfalls, desperate stabs at catchphrases and which features a character whose two biggest desires in life are to be loved and marmalade? Honestly, I don't know--kid films today are so aggressive in their approach that a determinedly low-key effort like this runs the risk of being overlooked. That said, I would like to think that, much like the Brown family, once exposed to Paddington, they will eventually succumb to his charms. Fu, funky and nicely offbeat, "Paddington" is the kind of movie that makes taking the family to the multiplex seem like a joy instead of spending 90 minutes in a Gummi Bear-scented gulag.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=25993&reviewer=389
originally posted: 01/16/15 10:11:48
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User Comments

1/22/15 Bob Dog Perfect - - a new classic is born!!!!! 5 stars
1/18/15 Simon A welcome, witty, easy-going family film. Kidman villain character a bit off though 4 stars
1/16/15 PAUL SHORTT SWEET, WARM AND WITTY 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  16-Jan-2015 (PG)
  DVD: 28-Apr-2015

UK
  28-Nov-2014 (PG)

Australia
  11-Dec-2014 (G)
  DVD: 28-Apr-2015




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