Director: Paul King
Writers: Paul King and Hamish McColl. “Paddington Bear” created by Michael Bond.
Composer: Nick Urata
Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Ben Whishaw, Nicole Kidman
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy, Family, Fantasy
Like Winnie the Pooh before it, Paddington Bear brought hope and child-like delight to readers who were recovering from the horrors of World War II. From the Baby Boomer generation, it was my mom that first introduced me to this polite little bear. I don’t recall much from my childhood about this character, though I happened to own a quilt that detailed his various little quirks and poses. So when it was announced that a film was finally being made, it was my mom who once again lead the way, wanting to see it. I too was curious to finally learn more about this little bear. Considering it was advertised as a children’s film, it was a risk for two adults to attend a screening. Would it really be for people like us? Turns out that it wasn’t a risky choice at all…
Violence/Scary Images: The main villain is a taxidermist who wishes to kill the bear, Paddington, and stuff his body for an exhibit. While her intentions are only declared a few times and her presence isn’t prominent in the movie, it still might be too dark for really young children. She shoots tranquilizer darts from a small handgun repeatedly throughout the movie.
A woman slaps a man across the face. One character (presumably) dies due to not getting to safety during an earthquake. Their body is never seen–they die off-screen. Another character is knocked off a roof. The fall would have killed them, though they are later found unharmed.
In one scene, Paddington climbs up the shaft of a furnace. If he falls, he will burn to death. It will be an intense scene for pre-school-aged children.
Language/Crude Humor: The phrase “Good Lord,” is exclaimed once. There’s also a “shut your pie hole” aimed at the villain. A character is dumped under a load of donkey manure and called “dung breath.” Paddington puts toothbrushes into his ears and later licks the earwax. The humans in this story can be quite blunt and rude in their attitude to foreigners (represented by Paddington), although there is no derogatory name-calling, rather it’s more disdain.
Drug/Alcohol References: In one scene as a distraction, one character challenges another to a drinking match. They are seen taking numerous shots of alcohol, becoming intoxicated, and even crack open a second bottle.
Spiritual Content: A character believes they have died and mistakes another character’s words as the voice of God. It is a short moment and the confusion is quickly resolved.
Sexual Content: A man dresses up as a woman in disguise in order to sneak past a guard. During their caper, the male guard flirts with the disguised man and at one point describes him as “sexy.” A woman dresses up in tight, slimming clothes, and leads a man on in order to further her own goals. How she treats the man is ultimately callous and cruel. A married couple passionately kiss. A prepubescent girl is dating a boy her own age–it is said rather than shown in the film. There is one reference to skinny-dipping.
Other Negative Content: One character is shown stealing people’s wallets, though they are later reprimanded for their crime. In one scene, in order to escape the villain, Paddington hides in the fridge, door completely closed. He comments on being cold, though the film doesn’t address the other lethal issues that can occur from that action.
Positive Content: Paddington explores a number of key themes due to the circumstances surrounding its titular character. It promotes kindness, even if the other person is completely different to oneself. There’s much to be said about being caring to strangers in need. Homelessness is a prominent issue, and the film clearly remarks that it’s not so much about sourcing a roof above one’s head, but a true home is where a person is loved and accepted. The importance of conservation and the richness in sharing cultures is also touched upon in the film.
Paddington is an utterly charming family film that will satisfy audiences no matter their age. At first, it’s difficult to imagine how a story about a talking bear will work. Will the film merely consist of people either screaming or constantly fascinated with the titular character? Yet from the opening sequence it’s clear that Paddington is incredibly tongue-in-cheek with its matter-of-fact British humor. The vast majority of characters play the straight man in this comedy, and the result is a delightfully fun movie that has the time to focus on the deeper themes that lay behind the oddity of its main character.
It’s an amusing mix that manages to work well when blended. The story is similar to the old time classic, Beethoven, where a family unintentionally takes in a hazardous creature and chaos ensues. We watch as a small problem cascades into something catastrophic in Paddington’s ill-equipped paws, though the real charm is the contrast with the bear’s respectable and apologetic nature. These little episodes filled with slapstick will entertain children, though the adults will no doubt take more delight in the scenes filled with witty banter, which make up the other portion of the film.
There are a few little side stories, told in a style reminiscent of the magnificent French film, Amélie, whilst the production design has taken a page from one of Wes Anderson’s works in certain places. The animation is gorgeous–while one can still tell that Paddington is a CGI creation, that doesn’t minimize his fur’s jaw-dropping detail. That level of attention rivals Pixar. The music is also notable, from Nick Urata’s adventurously bouncy theme that’s seemingly flavored with a hint of Danny Elfman, to D Lime’s calypso music that emphasizes the film’s concerns regarding the treatment of immigrants.
Such upbeat tunes demonstrate what a gift a foreign culture can bring to another, and likewise Paddington’s presence (despite his flaws being a bear and all), ultimately enriches the community. Since Paddington is a fictional subspecies, he, therefore, isn’t locked into representing one thing. In the opening act, the film harkens back to the days of the Second World War, where children were sent away and taken in by strangers. From then on, the film begins to question what happened to society’s caring attitude to those in need, whether it be an immigrant that is new to both their surroundings and the local culture, or to those who are facing the challenges of homelessness. Issues surrounding animal conservation–along with a critical analysis of the damage caused by the olden day approach of collecting specimens–are also present in the film, though they are secondary.
So this isn’t just another kid’s film, as it’s quite rich underneath if one wishes to strip back the layers of the plot. It is also nicely structured. Every character has their quirk, and sure enough, they are each given their time to shine. Some of the smaller recurring gags throughout the film also come full circle. All of the actors have fun with their roles; an enjoyment that’s then passed on to the onlooking audience.
If there is a weak spot, then it’s with the film’s villain, played by Nicole Kidman. Nothing wrong with her performance, but rather the simplicity of the character’s motivations don’t gel with the film’s deeper sense of symbolism at times. A determined taxidermist, when she does state her murderous intentions towards Paddington, it is rather morbid, which will, unfortunately, terrify young viewers. For a film that spends its time featuring delightful slapstick routines, it does take a dark turn in the final act. The movie still manages to maintain its witty charm, though the story does ultimately feel like it’s split into two halves once the villain is properly introduced.
Another issue people have with this film is that it’s apparently a poor adaptation of the books. I haven’t read any of them, so I can’t really comment, though from what I’ve heard, the movie changes the backstory too much and features a different tone compared to the one contained on the page.
Ultimately both of these complaints are forgivable. The film has captured a charming essence, and one doesn’t need a child to admire it. While it contains some levels of symbolism, it’s not as complex throughout its entire runtime unlike some of the best stories from Pixar, but it’s still a strong movie. The pacing of the film is wonderfully light, interjecting its different types of humor at regular intervals so that it never grows old or outstays its welcome. It’s a delightful story with rich themes that reinforce the importance of kindness, which will charm both children and adults alike. You have to ask yourself: what more do you want from a family film? It’s a real shame Paddington has been overlooked, as it’s a lovely gem.
+ Utterly charming + Beautifully animated + Great for adults and kids + Varies its humor + Technically strong + Raises deep issues and themes + Did I mention it was charming?
- Villain's motive rather simplistic - Reported to be a poor adaptation - Some parts might be too scary for the younger kids
The Bottom Line
It’s charming, witty, gorgeous to look at, and entertaining for people of all ages. Except for the tiny tots – the villain may be too scary for them. But apart from that, it’s hard to demand anything else from a family film. It performs perfectly for its target demographic. If you haven’t seen it yet, then now’s the time before the sequel is released.