It was somewhere between the dream sequence about losing touch with your inner child and the “hilarious” scene involving the protagonists’ clumsy first-time attempt to use cellophane tape that I realized that “Paddington” wasn’t for me. Mind you, this has much more to do with me and much less to do with the film itself. It has a well-rounded cast, wonderful cinematography that seamlessly blends the onscreen actors with the animated titular bear — Paddington — and a heartwarming message about love and family that both kids and their parents will love. However, I feel that the filmmaker’s target audience certainly wasn’t cynical 20-somethings who spend most of their time studying and have no children of their own. That being said, if you feel that you are sufficiently connected to your inner child or delight in the innocent trappings of youth, I can assure you that “Paddington” certainly won’t disappoint.
The film tells the story of Paddington, a young Peruvian bear that lives with his mild-mannered aunt and uncle. The three of them all learned English mannerisms from an explorer who made contact with them in some undefined time in the past, and after some terrible calamity destroys their home and way of life, Paddington must head to London to find a home for himself and find acceptance in a world that sees him as an outsider.
I initially wondered why he wasn’t tranquilized and captured by animal control somewhere around the time he was sitting around London’s St. Pancras train station, but after I actively tried to suspend my callous realism I was able to accept the fact that most Londoners wouldn’t bat an eye to seeing a wild animal gallivanting about their home city. An English family takes him in, and young Paddington and the family must learn how to find common ground between their dichotomously different ways to live happily ever after.
The film is rife with symbolism and heartwarming messages. It deals with loss, the struggle to find acceptance, the importance of friends and family and the necessity of learning how to love oneself in an oftentimes dehumanizing world. While most of the humor seems to be aimed at either a much younger or much older audience, some of the visual gags and jokes in the film generally made me laugh, and it ends on a message that’s so wholesome and quaint that it makes you want to simultaneously tear up and call your parents while also rolling your eyes.
The film is undeniably beautiful, and in a time where 90 percent of films seem to either feature unfinished or excessive CGI, it’s nice to see a film that features long, panoramic shots and careful camera work. The film also uses a storybook style to illustrate Paddington’s internal monologues, and has several dream-sequence style scenes that blur the line between reality and the characters’ own perceptions. The film has the unique quality of feeling that it was filmed entirely within a child’s imagination, with its bright color palette and blending of modern technology with sentimental youthfulness. It strongly reminded me of Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” and Steven Spielberg’s “The Adventures of Tintin,” and the cinematic style alone was enough to keep me engaged through the whole film.
While the plot about the internal family struggle between Paddington and his adoptive family could have carried the film on its own, the filmmakers also included a subplot that featured Nicole Kidman as an evil taxidermist who wants to take Paddington away from his family and inter him at the Museum of Natural History. This felt a bit shoehorned in at times, and the scenes featuring Kidman and her cartoonishly nefarious antics seem to only be there to bring star power to a relatively unknown main cast. Also, the film has many trademarks of stereotypical British humor, and some of the jokes probably won’t resonate with American audiences.
While “Paddington” is certainly one of the best family-friendly films I’ve seen as part of my adult life, it lacks the transcendent nature of movies like “Frozen” and “The Iron Giant” that permeate popular culture. If it sounds like a film you would enjoy, I highly recommend seeing it, as I had to think quite hard about any legitimate grievances I had with the acting, filming and plot. If your inner child isn’t chained up in the basement of your heart, I’d suggest getting to know him a bit by seeing “Paddington.”
Rating: 4 stars