"Long ago, people in England sent their children by train with labels around their necks, so they could be taken care of by complete strangers in the country side where it was safe.”
This quote is taken from a scene in which Aunt Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton), a CGI animated Bear living in a Peruvian rainforest, prepares her nephew Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw), a charming but mischievous marmalade-loving bear, to travel to London after a terrible earthquake has destroyed their home. Apparently the real life images of the children leaving the train station during the war along with a teddy bear in a store at Paddington Station is what inspired Michael Bond nearly sixty years ago to create this beloved children character which has now been brought to the big screen by director Paul King (Bunny and the Bull). To be honest, I wasn’t familiar with the character and this was the first time I was introduced to his world which sort of feels like it comes from the same universe as Stuart Little where you simply have to accept the fact that it is apparently normal for a talking bear to walk around the city and be adopted by a loving family. I’m not going to jump on the Paddington bandwagon here because despite the sweet and charming story I did find it rather tedious, boring, and extremely predictable. With a 98% of critics on Rottentomatoes liking this film, I’m definitely in the minority here, but I simply didn’t find it appealing.
Once Paddington arrives in London he is temporary welcomed by the Brown family until he finds the explorer who had befriended his uncles forty years ago in Peru. Henry (Hugh Bonneville) and Mary (Sally Hawkins) Brown are the parents of Judy (Madeleine Harris) and Jonathan (Samuel Joslin), but other than Mary no one seems too pleased about the intrusion of Paddington in their house. Eventually they all warm up to him despite his mischievous behavior, but not everyone is as welcoming as they are. There is a museum taxidermist, Millicent (Nicole Kidman), who hears rumors that this Peruvian bear is living with the Brown family and she wants him for her personal collection. Peter Capaldi plays the role of Mr. Curry, the Brown’s next door neighbor who is willing to help Millicent take the bear away from his neighborhood, while Jim Broadbent is Mr. Gruber, an antique shop owner who tries to help Paddington locate the mysterious explorer.
It is evident that the film has an underlying message about the poor way in which immigrants are treated. Paddington is a beloved and charming character that will easily win the hearts of children. The story follows pretty much the same basic formula as most classic children films did. Visually the movie is very stylish and there are several set designs that reminded me of Wes Anderson’s work. Especially those scenes where he uses rostrum camera insert shots to animate several objects. I’ll give King credit for those visually beautiful scenes, but I simply didn’t feel engaged with the characters as most people did. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I had never heard of Paddington before, but as a film on its own it definitely didn’t stand out for me.