Recently crowned the highest grossing non-Hollywood family film ever made, Paddington (2014) is the little British film adaptation that could; a family-friendly ode to family and friends that defied the odds and shushed the naysayers with aplomb. Admittedly the director is unlikely candidate Paul King – who previously flexed his directorial muscles with TV’s surreal The Mighty Boosh and zany feature comedy Bunny and the Bull (2009). Shepherding the film onto the big screen was Harry Potter wiz David Hayman, and the result is a solid and unrelentingly heart-warming comedy that both works hard for, and absolutely deserves, its many accolades.
Adapted from Michael Bond’s cherished Paddington Bear books, King’s film has its heart and allegiances in the right place as it sets about both respecting, conflating and updating Bond’s stories for a modern audience – not least through the fine use of computer-generated imagery and animatronics. Ben Whishaw imbues Paddington with a deft sense of gentility, wonderment and child-like innocence and we first see him in deepest, darkest Peru, where, after a crushing earthquake, he is sent away to London to seek solace in the supposedly accepting bosom of the British capital. It’s upon arriving there that he meets the Brown family, headed up by Sally Hawkins’ kindly bohemian mother Mary and (the superb) Hugh Bonneville’s Henry, a professional risk analyst with an aversion to spontaneity.
His initial reticence towards Paddington’s nascent clumsiness soon thaws, however, when the bear comes under threat from a determined taxidermist at the Natural History Museum – played by Nicole Kidman – who’s made it her mission to track down and make a spectacle of this most rare of species. Imbued with the kind of quintessentially British mentality that’s seen many other homegrown films of a similar ilk thrive both domestically and overseas, Paddington is a triumph of simple, effortless pleasures, sculpted by a filmmaker who knows exactly what elements of the book to weave into his charming tapestry. Though it would have been easy for him to be overly reliant on the wealth of strong performances and let the film practically direct itself, King – a characteristically independent filmmaker – takes a hands-on approach, ensuring the acceptance-for-all message is present and correct. Though not explicitly anti-UKIP, the film has a timely edge, even if, puzzlingly, the only people of colour featured throughout the film are street performers.
Further to this, King’s clear love letter to the big smoke fuels the film, affecting both its sentiments and its geographical reach. Establishing shots aren’t merely used for sloppy scene-setting but to allow audiences to observe it through Paddington’s unique point of view. This can be seen, for example, in a central-to-west London taxi drive (by Matt Lucas, no less) that allows him to really get a lay of the land, much to Mr. Brown’s chagrin. A later sequence where Paddington outlines the skyline on a condensation-heavy window also has more genuine pathos that it probably had any right to. Though rumours of a planned sequel are as real as they wholly expected considering the film’s box office success, it’s hoped that whatever further adventures Hayman et al have in store for everyone’s favourite marmalade-guzzler won’t dilute this glorious example of a family film done right.