At one moment in Paul King’s wondrous new film, the titular bear is seen settling in to sleep comfortably on the wooden elevation in an attic, with a windowsill pouring in twilight, lashings of thunder and the hubbub of rain. He snugly lets his red hat float to cover his eyes, and makes the frame complete with the genuineness of its warmth.
Based on a character created by Michael Bond back in 1958, Paddington traces the bear’s amusing misadventures starting from being found at the eponymous train station with utmost sensitivity. Where studios have sold out to ripping off literature to set the cash registers ringing, this British comedy pulls up its colorful slacks on an old formula of family, love and marmalade to make an enchanting ninety-minute treat for kids and grownups alike. The film does not miss teasing Shakespeare by referring to The Winter’s Tale where the teacher’s “Exit pursued by a bear” is cued in with Paddington flying (don’t ask) in pursuit of a pickpocket, or by making the pickpocket’s GPRS in the car telling him to “bear left” at the same sight. Paddington – in his signature, sea-green duffle coat and with his innocent mannerisms – brings out the high laughs. Director/writer Paul King and his co-writer Hamish McColl employ a classical approach to storytelling that reminds us why filmmaking is still one of the best mediums to do so.
Sally Hawkins is perfectly cast as the affectionate Mrs Brown whose request gets Paddington a place in the Brown family and their home. Her welcoming air is offset well by Hugh Bonneville as her stern husband Henry Brown whose idea of being a responsible father begins with switching to a car from a bike. The kids: Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin as Judy and Jonathan respectively, are great. The strongest internalization of character comes, predictably, from Ben Whishaw as he lends a sufficiently verbose and expressive voice to Paddington the bear. His integration into live-action is seamless leaving us to enjoy moments of delicate revelry without rolling our eyes at its visual plausibility. In a tale set so far (or is it?) from the murderous reality of our gruesome species, Paddington remains assuredly human with scenes laughing pointedly at our folly: like one in which two security guards quiz each other on the sodium and carbohydrate content of an Oreo biscuit while the sinister Millicent (Nicole Kidman) hovers behind them.
At one point in the film Sally Hawkin’s character dejectedly lets Mr Brown know that there is still no news of Paddington after he’s left them. We know their home no longer echoes with the rollicking laughter that it did when he was with them. The animation and special effects team takes over, and a blossoming tree painted on their walls loses its leaves, now to reveal a lifeless organism rotting at the hands of loneliness.
Paddington is a film with such definitive old school gorgeousness; it almost goes to war with the shallowness of our times at the theater characterized so starkly by the overpriced popcorn and cola. The film is glorious candy fluff, but it is a remarkable one because its candy has enormous nutritional value without compromising on the sweetness. It is a film you’ll want to hug.