You can keep Winnie the Pooh, I’ll take Michael Bond’s Paddington. Re-imagined by Paul King and Hamish McColl, the bear from Darkest Peru finds himself in the train station, lost and seeking a home. In some ways, the cinematic version becomes an Annie-like story about an orphan far from home, with Nicole Kidman’s Millicent Clyde playing the role of Miss Hannigan. Only Millicent is a taxidermist and she wants to mount Paddington as another jewel in her crown, to finish the work she understands her father to have started.
I’m often asked if there’s a movie that parents could take their kids to- this is the film that fits that description for January. (I don’t know: maybe Strange Magic will pull that off, too.) But Paddington offers up good, clean fun by the standards of the MPAA, even if Paddington causes toilet water to flood the home of the Browns (Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins), who try to provide care for this out of place bear, and he uses toothbrushes to clean out his earwax… and eat it.
Fans of science fiction will notice the latest Doctor, Peter Capaldi (The Musketeers), as the Browns’ neighbor, Mr. Reginald Curry. [Ironically, when he first encounters Millicent, she’s standing in an English… phone booth.] The adult characters that King surrounds his computer-generated/animatronic bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw of Skyfall) provide the necessary flesh-and-blood to make this a story and not just a gimmick. We worry with Mr. Brown about how his children will learn (negatively) from Paddington, before he recognizes that he’s actually mis-teaching them by his own attitude; we recognize the loneliness of Mr. Curry in being ‘seduced’ into going along with Millicent’s plan; we understand (even if she’s still crazy) why Millicent herself bears (ugh…) such a grudge. There’s more here than straight-up hijinks, but those are enough to keep the family of all ages plugged in.
Paddington is good fun with heart, like a build-a-bear come alive with morality, feeling, and a sense of itself. Maybe that makes it more like Pinnochio even if it turns out being more about finding home than actually coming alive. Rating: borrow it