Producer David Hayman’s adaptation of Michael Bond’s children’s book may be more Harry Potter than anything else, but that doesn’t matter. Hayman’s oddly retro-anachronistic take on the bear from darkest Peru is a joy, a delight, a treasure.
Ben Wishaw (Skyfall, Cloud Atlas) voices the innocent-abroad, Paddington, not only remade as a slapstick hero after Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton, but possibly the most polite movie hero in screen history. Everyone will want to look after this bear.
Politically incorrect in so many ways – all you have to do is stowaway in a lifeboat to get into the country – Paddington is set in a Mary Poppins version of London that never existed. Regardless of today’s glittering skyline, this is a fairytale London, with open-back Routemaster buses which stopped running twenty years ago.
A quality cast is imported from Potter – Gambon and Staunton in voice cameo, in person Jim Broadbent (Cloud Atlas) and Julie Walters the mischievous Mrs Byrd, another of her formidable and dotty old ladies.
The Brown family who take in the orphaned bear includes Judy (Madeleine Harris), a sulky teen linguist with terminal Parental Embarassment Syndrome; Jonathan (Samual Joslin) the boy genius who dreams of being an astronaut; and free-spirit mum Mary (Sally Hawkins – An Education), the caring heart of the movie.
But the Paddingon script betrays its’ debt to Mary Poppins, with Mr Banks the banker, become Mr Brown the Risk Analyst (Hugh Bonneville – Monuments Men, Downton Abbey), about to rediscover his lost spark, with superb comic timing.
Current Dr. Who Peter Capaldi guests as grumpy neighbour and suburban Malvolio, Mr Curry, in league with the movie’s vilain, Nicole Kidman (Australia, Grace of Monaco), vamping it up Cruella De Ville style, as museum taxidermist Millicent. And jolly good she is too.
The close-up CGI is faultless – you’ve never seen fur, lovable brown eyes and a wet nose rendered this well. In wider shots, the bear lacks fluidity and a certain weight, but when all’s said, who cares?
This is Paddington made over as an adventure-chase movie; the set-pieces include umbrella-enabled flying, a Ministry of Magic break-in at the whimsically steam-punk Geographers Guild, and not one, but two blatantly knowing Mission Impossible skits.
Paddington passes the Six Laugh Test* inside the first six minutes and manages to balance action, comedy and familiar notions of family with bigger themes of kindness to refugees. RC
Director: Paul King
Writers: Paul King, Hamish McColl from Michael Bond
Genre: Family, adventure,comedy
Running Time: 95mins
Cast: Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Ben Wishaw, Nicole Kidman, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton, Madleine Harris, Samuel Joslin, Matt Lucas, Peter Capaldi
Related: How to Train Your Dragon 2
* Six Laugh Test copyright Dr. Mark Kermode.