Paddington is the kind of magic, of whimsy and wonder and warmth, movie audiences need during the winter hibernation season. It’s that soulful cuteness that makes hot chocolate on a cold day so soothing, transforming ordinary water and cocoa mix into a rejuvenating elixir that heals us to our cores. It softens rough hands. It wisps away the chill from the bones.To someone whose heart is frosted over with the woes of worry and age, it may even be that sought-after holy grail, that artistic display of kindness, that renews a sense of youthfulness and uninhibited love.
Though the titular Peruvian bear has ensnared the hearts and minds of children for over 50 years, writer and director Paul King’s latest adaptation proves this well-establishedicon can still win viewers over with a sense of imagination and color. And Paddington is very colorful. It’s the right balance of photographed realism and vibrant painting that takes us from our doorsteps and into a world busting at the seams with creativity, and the best part is, this world feels within our grasp, that it truly is right outside our doors. If we can dream it. If we can will that kind of magical thinking into existence.
There’s an adventure waiting for us if we take the first step, if we put on our blue coats and red explorer hats and march through that doorway, Paddington reminds us. This is one of the many themes and moral fables interwoven in the film’s 95 minutes. Other themes revolve around friendship, family, kindness, and charity. Most importantly,Paddington explores the meaning of “home,” of what it means to find comfort and hearth in a busy world where we can often feel alienated and different. For children, our furry friend allays the fears of “fitting in.”
While these themes aren’t unique, they’re crafted in a way that isn’t preachy, nor are theymoral yawns for children or adults. A strong current of humor courses its way throughPaddington, one packed with jokes targeted for everyone as our protagonist searches for a new home to call his own. While kids giggle at the interludes of over-the-top slapstick, some of the human actors, in a wink and a nod to the parents in the theater, mutter a clever wisecrack. And for the most part, the film jumps from one humorous scene to the next smoothly.
If any part of Paddington suffers, it’s the shoe-horned villain — a one-dimensionally diabolical Nicole Kidman intent on stuffing the bear. That’s not a euphemism. She’s the museum’s director of taxidermy, and she desires to add Paddington to her vast collection.For the most part, Kidman acts as the bridging element that fuses one scene to the next. Beyond serving as cohesive, she doesn’t do much. With all the family interplay between Paddington’s adopted family, The Browns, and Paddington, however, Kidman isn’t really needed either. But she offers up a few good laughs and seems to have enjoyed taking part in this flight of fantasy.
And that’s what is key with Paddington. This flight of fantasy. This carefree adventure with colorful mishaps.
It’s filmed fantastically, incorporating a great deal of imagination and care, and this is where the movie’s uniqueness shines. When it came time to show a character’s thoughts,feelings, or memories, Paul King found creative ways to convey this information to the audience in a way that felt mesmerizing, to say the least. Characters would transpose themselves between two worlds with their thoughts, and visually, how King managed to pull it off, felt dream-like, as if reality were just a film over endless possibility.
A particular favorite scene of mine was King’s choice in portraying a human character’s sadness and dejection. Instead of showing us this emotion through facial features or expository dialogue, King took advantage of a mural on the wall that had been in the film off and on over the past 40 minutes. There was a tree in that mural, littered with leaves. As emotion washes over the human, the leaves in the painting simply billow away. It was surreal. Beautiful. Memorable.
Moments like this make film and cinema the magical and wondrous form of art it is. There are those filmmakers who, even under the guise of conjuring a children’s film, dare to innovate and dream outside the standard convention of filmmaking. In the case of Paddington, what King interpreted for audiences was nothing short of amazing, a spectacle that aims to reach higher than the average children’s fare and succeeds. In the theater, I asked myself why this saw a theatrical release in January. I found out later thatPaddington is an import, having been released a month or more earlier across the globe.In the States, we’re the last to see this fun, beautiful movie. We’re among the last to be dazzled by it, to be rejuvenated by its tenderness. That should say something about what film distributors think of us.