The adaptation of nostalgic material has been painful for so many reasons. There’s nothing quite like watching your childhood memories be painfully cashed in on, as you sit there and watch a new generation of children experience a hacked version of your favourite children’s tale. But there’s also no better feeling than to watch someone get it – truly understand the source material. It’s similar to any adaptation, with the exception being that some are bringing things to a wider audience, and others are putting their own unique spin on it. Fortunately, Paddington is an adaptation more than worth visiting.
I dreaded the first trailer for Paddington, and everything leading up to release made me think it had no chance of being anything of merit. I am the audience that would watch the film for nostalgia’s sake, begging that they got everything right. This is a movie that does exactly that. And it does it with an excess of charm and wit. From the opening scene which helped remind me of everything that made Paddington Brown a staple of my childhood, to the comically dark antagonist of the film, I was smiling ear-to-ear.
As one of the last bears from darkest Peru, Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) leaves his home in the rainforest after an earthquake destroys it, forcing him and his aunt to leave. She sends him off to London so he can find a new home, as she moves into the Home for Retired Bears. Left in London with nothing but his uncle’s hat, a suitcase of marmalade and a marmalade sandwich under his cap in case of emergencies, Paddington soon gets adopted by the Brown family. But Mr. Browne (Hugh Bonneville) is reluctant, to say the least.
One of the key elements of Paddington is that he always gets into trouble, but its when trying to do a good thing. He’s lovably ignorant, in a way which would understandably frustrate the people who have to deal with him. Naturally, the film is still filled with predictable character arcs and the exact amount of villains you would expect. But oh boy, the villain in Paddington is so gleefully dark and perhaps the most logical antagonist for a film about a one-of-a-kind bear. Nicole Kidman plays the taxidermist hunting down Paddington so she can kill him, stuff him, and add him to her collection.
And it is worth noting that everyone is great in Paddington. Sally Hawkins plays the mother who cares too much, and Bonneville is great as the uptight father who cares more about his family’s safety than their happiness. It was also a smart idea to cast Whishaw as the voice of Paddington over Colin Firth. Whishaw feels perfect for the part, whereas I agree with the concerns that Firth would have sounded too old. Likely not as cute, either.
The humor in Paddington is also extremely well done. There is not just great dialogue, but also some amazing visual gags that had me in stitches. And when Paddington gives a hard stare – I expelled the biggest laugh I could muster. These jokes are what will make people who didn’t grow up with Paddington still get lots of mileage out of its rather obvious story, and equally obvious characters.
For those who did grow up with the marmalade-addicted Peruvian bear, you’ll get a kick out of the main narrative, which works in a very similar way as every episode of the shows did, as well as the books. Thankfully, while there is plenty of marmalade-loving, its used a lot less than I expected based on the opening scenes. And sometimes marmalade would be the reason for Paddington to do some really dumb stuff, but they avoided that predicament. I think being turned into a stuffed animal is enough of a concern.
Delightful. Charming. Endearing. All of those words aptly describe Paddington. It was a pleasant surprise to see such a childhood favourite of mine not be raked over the coals, for once. I’d even be alright with a sequel, but I’m not sure if the movie will meet enough success commercially. I wouldn’t even be shocked if the magic is lost after this film, though as I said, Paddington is dripping in charm and wit. And it is one of those family movies that does what it is supposed to: appeal to an entire family.