Paul King tells the story of the Peruvian hat-wearing bear Paddington with painless charm and a cool wit, crafting a family-friendly outing that’ll leave baby, momma and poppa bear equally satisfied. Though never quite reaching the heights promised in its subversively droll opening sequence (travel piano FTW), Paddington plays its “home is where the heart is” message safe but effectively, wearing its heart on its sleeve in a decidedly not saccharine manner. Skirting the fine line of overt mushing, King has his cake and eats it too, serving up a delightfully cheery rendition of everyone’s favorite anthropomorphic duffle-coated bear with just a spoon full of sugar to help it all go down smoothly.
So named for a London train station, Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) is an unassuming, though habitually catastrophic, little bundle of CGI fur prone to incidents of the wrong-place-wrong-time variety. Ejected from his homelands of Darkest Peru after an earthquake levels his Ewokian tree fort abode and his uncle Pastuzo (Michael Gambon), Paddington heads to London armed only with a suitcase full of marmalade and a baggage claim necktie that reads “Please look after this bear. Thank you.” Confident that he can seek out the explorer who discovered his super-intelligent species so many years back (and was thoughtful enough not to “bag a specimen”), Paddington soon realizes that London isn’t the chipper, uber-polite metropolis he had envisioned.
Stranded in a subway station, the Brown family happens upon the dejected bipedal bear, now plum out of marmalade. Hugh Boneville‘s Mr. Brown shrugs him off as a pesky louse while Sally Hawkins‘ Mrs. Brown discovers a quick soft spot in her heart for the definitely not-stuffed little caniform, convincing her portly hubby and incalculably-not-escatic children to house him. At least until they can find wee Paddington a proper guardian. Bathtub shenanigans follow.
More hijinks ensue when Nicole Kidman‘s villainous Millicent enters the picture with nefarious plans to capture and perform a case of emergency taxidermy on the fuzzy critter from Darkest Peru. For the dollar dollar bills y’all. Performing midair acrobatics (and unmistakably riffing on Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible wire work) Kidman throws himself completely into the campy role, providing a Looney Toon of a villain as a necessary pivot point to get the emotional ball rolling for the ever-stubborn Mr. Brown.
Though the third act fails to get off the ground – literally and figuratively – in much of the same ways that the first two do, the accordant motif of high heights remains – Mr. Brown on a balcony risking life and limb being the linchpin finale we all knew was in store. It all adds up to emotionally rich though highly retread territory; its promises of originality reduced to the likes of a safari in our own humble backyard. But that innit all bad, issit? Though not necessarily high-minded, Paddington is a compilation of pleasantries set out to win the hearts of its observers, if not necessarily their minds.