8.5 out of 10
Release Date: 28th November 2014
Director: Paul King (Come Fly With Me (TV) / Bully & The Bull / The Mighty Boosh (TV))
Cast: Ben Whishaw (voice), Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, Julie Walters, Peter Capaldi, Madeleine Harris, Samuel Joslin, Tim Downie, Matt Lucas, Kayvan Novak, Matt King, Simon Farnaby, Alice Lowe, Geoffery Palmer, Dominic Coleman, Tom Meeten, Steve Oram with Michael Gambon (voice), Imelda Staunton (voice), Jim Broadbent and Nicole Kidman
Writer: Hamish McColl & Paul King / Michael Bond
Review by Matt Usher
Just think how terrible this could have been. A film about an already established well-loved fictional character is a big risk, particularly when the character in question is one who brings several generations of gentle nostalgia along with him. Those of us who are of a certain age (40) will have learned of the arrival of a PADDINGTON film with apprehension. How could some new CGI-suffused multi-million-pound blockbuster with the stunt-casting of Oscar-winning Colin Firth possibly compare favourably with the 1970s no-budget stop-motion version with black-and-white-backgrounds and Michael Hordern? Surely this would be one of those non-events like the recent POSTMAN PAT or THE MAGIC ROUNDABOUT. Well, no. The makers of PADDINGTON have been remarkably successful in creating a film which caters both for an audience previously oblivious to the popular bear and for those who were expecting it to be nowhere near as good as the books / the 70s TV version / the adverts / the Channel 5 remake. In fact we have here what I hope will be one of those classics which will provide TV schedulers an easy Christmas for decades to come.
But hang on, I hear you cry, PADDINGTON? What is that doing here? Shouldn’t I be reviewing things with gangsters and drug dealers and zombie hooligans? Yes, yes I should – indeed my editor is expecting a review of THE SILENCER so this might come as a bit of a shock. But, on the other hand, it’s probably the best British-made film I’ve seen since I started writing for Britpic so hurrah! True, its budget was probably more than the other 190 films I’ve reviewed added together, but the film-makers still need to spend it properly (are you listening LONDON BOULEVARD?), which they have done magnificently. Does Britpic get any better than this? (Mind you, THE SILENCER, in which a framed ex-policeman turns vigilante and ruthlessly kills all who stand in his way, has its own modest and rather sweet charms which I shall discuss sooner or later.)
PADDINGTON tells the story of our (eventually) eponymous bear as he moves from the apparent comfort (and occasional earthquake) of darkest Peru to find a new home in London. (It’s a none too subtle reminder to the British that we pride ourselves on being warm and welcoming and decent, which might have been something our politicians should have remembered as they ruthlessly tried to divide us up and appeal to our more racist, greedy instincts over the last few weeks.) The film is surely a bit of good old-fashioned left-wing social engineering (the film has a simple moral: ‘be nice to others unless they’re murderous taxidermists’) but it is also deliriously fluffy fun, as well as being a pro-tolerance fable in which an immigrant arrives, is treated appallingly by natives both malign and indifferent, but who triumphs partly through his own innate goodness, partly through the decency of his friends, and partly through a drunk Julie Walters being in the right place at the right time. Where was I? So the bear is taken in for the night by the Brown family (Hugh Bonneville as the risk-averse father, Sally Hawkins as his optimistic but disappointed wife, with two surprisingly un-annoying and even quite good child actors as the junior Browns). They live in the sort of wonderful house only characters in children’s films or NOTTING HILL ever have: the film-makers have huge amounts of fun making
it a kind of doll-house complete with symbolic wallpaper. There follow a series of bear-out-of-jungle japes, involving slapstick comedy (bathroom and train antics), terrible puns (‘bear left’), silly sight-gags and some excellent CGI. I’ve generally been militantly pro-plasticine in the animation debate (is there an animation debate?) but watching PADDINGTON was like watching one of Aardman’s best films (OK I suppose I’m suggesting here that both the computer bear and the live-action actors were like clay, but that’s a compliment). Not only is the timing spot on, but the bear is both cute and convincingly real. (Obviously CGI ages quicker than almost anything so by next Christmas it’ll probably look like a fuzzy computer drawing, but right now it’s rather wonderful.)
A plot does eventually arrive in the shape of evil museum boss / taxidermist Nicole Kidman (in surely her best role and best film since MOULIN ROUGE) who wants to stuff Paddington for Freudian reasons. This necessitates the involvement of Peter Capaldi as a comedy member of UKIP (like all UKIP members I suppose) who plays Mr Curry as a descendant of Dick van Dyke’s Bert the Chimney-Sweep (that’s a compliment of sorts). (Actually the whole film is a kind of non-singing spiritual successor to MARY POPPINS.) And whilst I’m dishing out compliments to actors, I’ll briefly congratulate Colin Firth for leaving the project. Realising that his voice and the visual representation of Paddington were a bad match must have been dismaying, but leaving was surely a right and decent thing to do. So along came Ben Whishaw. How could this mere stripling of a lad do justice to Paddington Bear, who was of course most famously voiced by the great Michael Hordern? (And besides, last time I saw Whishaw he was playing an unhinged psychotic killer in Mojo.) I needn’t have worried. Like Hordern he doesn’t caricature the voice, he plays it beautifully straight, gentle and sincere, leaving all the comedy to the visual side.
Things turn sinister when Paddington is abducted and faces certain doom at the Natural History Museum. The finale, which is both text-book and funny, does raise questions about the current real-life bosses at the Natural History Museum though. Not only have they controversially decided to remove the diplodocus but they’ve also allowed their institution to be seen as being run by a bear-stuffing maniac with lax security.
All ends well of course, personal demons exorcised, baddies variously redeemed and punished, and Paddington being fed marmalade by the sandwich-load. It’s a live-action-CGI cartoon, warm and cosy (though not cloyingly sentimental) and with a nice bundle of anarchic set-pieces. It’s a very London (Richard Curtis version) film, and none the worse for that. There’s also the possibility of sequels floating in the air. Personally I’d be interested to see what would happen if Paddington took a wrong turn off the Portobello Road and found himself in a bit of London where the brothers Kemp, Danny Dyer and Billy Murray hang around beating Mr Gruber up. Who wouldn’t pay good money to see Craig Fairbrass get duffed up by a children’s animation?
(My only negative criticism is that there wasn’t enough of the accidentally kidnapped dog.)
WHAT HAVE I SEEN THAT ACTOR IN BEFORE?
- Ben Whishaw: Mary Poppins 2, Paddington 2, Hologram For a King, The Lobster, The Danish Girl, James Bond – Spectre, In The Heart of the Sea, Suffragette, Lilting, The Zero Theorem, James Bond – Skyfall, The Cloud Atlas, The Tempest (2010), Brideshead Revisited (2008), Bright Star, I’m Not There, Perfume, Stoned
- Sally Hawkins: Maudie, X+Y, Godzilla (2015), The Double (2014), Blue Jasmine, Great Expectations (2012), Never Let Me Go, Jane Eyre (2011), Submarine, It’s a Wonderful Afterlife, Made In Dagenham, An Education, Cassandra’s Dream, Happy Go Lucky, All Or Nothing, Layer Cake, Vera Drake
- Hugh Bonneville: Paddington 2, Viceroy’s House, Downton Abbey (TV), W1A (TV), Muppets Most Wanted, The Monuments Men, The Return Of Captain Nemo (2013), Third Star, Burke & Hare, Glorious 39, Iris, Mansfield Park, Notting Hill
- Julie Walters: Mary Poppins 2, Paddington 2, film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool, Indian Summers (TV), Brooklyn, Effie Gray, The Harry Hill Movie, One Chance, Brave (voice), Harry Potter- Part 1-8, Mamma Mia!, Becoming Jane, Driving Lessons, Wah Wah, Calendar Girls, Before You Go, Billy Elliott, Titanic Town, Girls’ Night, Intimate Relations, Sister My Sister, Just Like a Woman, Stepping Out, Killing Dad or How To Love Your Mother, Buster, Victoria Wood (TV), Prick Up Your Ears, Personal Services, She’ll Be Wearing Pink Pyjamas, Educating Rita
- Peter Capaldi: Paddington 2, Dr Who (TV), The Musketeers (TV), The Fifth Estate, World War Z, In The Thick Of It (TV), Big Fat Gypsy Gangster, In The Loop, Torchwood (TV), Magicians, Max, Shooting Fish, Bean. Smilla’s Feeling For Snow, Neverwhere (TV), Captives, Soft Top Hard Shoulder, Dangerous Liaisons, Lair Of The White Worm, Local Hero
- Madeleine Harris: Man Down (TV)
- Samuel Joslin: The Impossible
- Tim Downie: The Toast of London (TV), This Is Jinsy (TV), Doctors (TV)
- Matt Lucas: How To Talk To Girls At Parties, Dr Who (TV), Alice In Wonderland 2, In Secret, The Harry Hill Movie, The Look of Love, Small Apartments, Bridesmaids, Gnomeo & Juliet (voice), Alice In Wonderland (2010), Cold and Dark, The Infidel, Shooting Stars (TV), Little Britain (TV), The Smell Of Reeves and Mortimer (TV)
- Kayvan Novak: Danger Mouse (voice) (TV), Prevenge, Sun Trap (TV), Thunderbirds (TV) (voice), Cuban Fury, Four Lions, Facejacker (TV), Fonejacker (TV)
- Matt King: Ibiza Undead, Get Santa, Peep Show (TV), London Boulevard, Made In Dagenham, Malice In Wonderland, Inkheart, Rock-N-Rolla, Bronson
- Simon Farnaby: Mindhorn, Bill, Horrible Histories (TV), All Stars, Burke and Hare, Your Highness, Bunny and The Bull, The Mighty Boosh (TV)
- Alice Lowe: Chubby Funny, Stoner Express, Adult Life Skills, The Ghoul, Prevenge (dir), Burn Burn Burn, Black Mountain Poets, Aaaaaaaah!, Electricity, Locke (voice), The World’s End, Sightseers, This Is Jinsy (TV), Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place (TV)
- Geoffrey Palmer: Run For Your Wife, W/E, As Time Goes By (TV), The Pink Panther 2, Peter Pan (2002), Anna & The King, Mrs Brown, Stiff Upper Lips, James Bond – Tomorrow Never Dies, The Madness Of King George III, A Fish Called Wanda, A Zed and Two Noughts, Clockwise, Butterflies (TV), Fall and Rise Of Reginald Perrin (TV)
- Dominic Coleman: The Devil Went Down To Islington, We Are The Freaks, Weekend Retreat, Sex Lives of the Potato Men
- Tom Meeten: The Ghoul, Prevenge, Tank 432, Aaaaaaaah!, Bill, Crackanory (TV), Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy (TV), Burke & Hare, Weekender, Star Stories (TV), The Mighty Boosh (TV), Saxondale (TV), I Want Candy, Magicians
- Steve Oram: The Man You’re Not, A Dark Song, Aaaaaaaah!, Captain Webb, The Canal, The Bad Education Movie, The Haunting of Radcliffe House, Cuban Fury, The World’s End, Sightseers
- Michael Gambon: Victoria & Abdul, Mad To Be Normal, Viceroy’s House, Dad’s Army, Fortitude (TV), Quartet, The King’s Speech, Harry Potter – parts 2-8, The Book Of Eli, Fantastic Mr Fox (voice), Brideshead Revisited (2008), The Good Night, The Good Shepherd, The Omen (2006), The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, Layer Cake, Sky Captain and The World Of Tomorrow, Sylvia, Open Range, The Actors, Ali G In Da House, Charlotte Gray, Gosford Park, High Heels and Low Lifes, Sleepy Hollow, The insider, Plunkett & Macleane, Dancing at Lughnasa, The Gambler, Wings Of The Dove, Mary Reilly, The Innocent Sleep, Two Deaths, Nothing Personal, A Man Of No Importance, The Browning Version (1994), Toys, Mobsters, The Cook The Thief His Wife and Her Lover, A Dry White Season, The Rachel Papers, Paris By Night, The Singing Detective (TV)
- Imelda Staunton: Pride (2014), Maleficent, The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists (voice), Another Year, The Awakening, Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows – Part 1, Three and Out, Harry Potter & The Order Of The Phoenix, Freedom Writers, Shadow Man, Nanny McPhee, Vera Drake, Blackball, Chicken Run (voice), Remember Me, Twelth Night (1996), Sense and Sensibility, Much Ado About Nothing(1993), Peter’s Friends
- Jim Broadbent: Paddington 2, Black 47, The Sense of An Ending, Ethel & Ernest (voice), Bridget Jones 3, Eddie The Eagle, The Legend of Tarzan, War & Peace (TV), The Lady In The Van, Brooklyn, Big Game, Get Santa, Postman Pat (voice), The Harry Hill Movie, Closed Circuit, Le Week-End, Filth, Cloud Atlas, The Iron Lady, Arthur Christmas (voice), Another Year, Harry Potter- part 8, Harry Potter- part 6, The Damned United, Young Victoria, Inkheart, Indiana Jones 4, Hot Fuzz, Chronicles Of Narnia- The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, Bridget Jones 2, Vera Drake, Vanity Fair, Bright Young Things, Nicholas Nickleby (2002), Gangs Of New York, Iris, Moulin Rouge, Bridget Jones, Little Voice, Topsy Turvy, The Avengers, The Borrowers, Smilla’s Feeling For Snow, The Secret Agent, Rough Magic, Richard III (1995), Princess Caraboo, Bullets Over Broadway, Widow’s Peak, The Crying Game, Enchanted April, Life Is Sweet, Erik The Viking, Vroom, Brazil
- Nicole Kidman: Genius, Aquaman, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, How To Talk To Girls At Parties, The Beguiled, Top of the Lake (TV), Big Little Lies (TV), Lion, Strangerland, Secrets In Their Eyes (2016), Before I Go To Sleep, Grace of Monaco, The Railway Man, Stoker, The Paperboy, Trespass (2011), Just Go With It, Rabbit Hole, Nine, Australia, The Golden Compass, Margot At The Wedding, Happy Feet (voice), Fur, Bewitched, The Interpreter, Birth, The Stepford Wives (2005), Cold Mountain, The Human Stain, Dogville, The Hours, Birthday Girl, The Others, Moulin Rouge, Eyes Wide Shut, Practical Magic, The Peacmaker, Portrait of a Lady, Batman Forever, To Die For (1995), My Life, Malice, Far and Away, Billy Bathgate, Flirting, Days of Thunder, Bangkok Hilton (TV), Dead Calm, Emerald City, BMX Bandits, Bush Christmas