Paddington (2015) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Paddington (2015)

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Many years ago, an explorer entered darkest Peru and met a tribe of bears who took a shine to marmalade.  Now, in modern-day London, a young bear leaves his home in the wilderness to try his luck in the city.  Paul King directs Paddington from a script he co-wrote with Hamish McCall and stars Ben Whishaw, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, and Nicole Kidman.

Subway rescueI was not looking forward to this as the teaser trailer for Paddington was one of the most unbearable things I’ve sat through in recent memory. As the pratfalls and humor continued to settle around a collection of Rube Goldberg mechanics I grew annoyed that the eventual product would be nothing but the same. Unfortunately, Paddington very often plays to this painful kind of humor. The many wacky shenanigans and complex devices which fill the film are less to delight and more to prolong a punchline whose conclusion was telegraphed well in advance.

If all of Paddington was at this level it would have been a trying experience. The good news about Paddington, which is not enough to redeem it but quite enough to move it up a grade, is those moments are just one part of a film with many moving parts. There are sections of Paddington which are lovely, utilizing a storybook motif through a child’s lens to tell the unusual story of the youngest in a family of bears who enjoy marmalade and want to find safety in a troubled world.

The set design and cinematography for Paddington are consistently gorgeous.

The set design and cinematography for Paddington are consistently gorgeous.

The baseline of Paddington is a story which should speak well to adults and children alike. After all, who didn’t want to find safety with their family after a troubling nightmare as a child? Then for the parents, what good parent doesn’t want to feel as though their child is safe and happy? Though, in a bit of padding, telling dual stories of human children who have social concerns alongside the abnormality of a talking bear might have been a bit much.

But it’s warm hearted and the cinematography by Erik Wilson puts it a cut above other children’s fare. The color palette for Paddington is surprisingly lush and not at all like the bright posters and that ungainly teaser. I was surprised at the consistent warmth of Paddington, and even when his world seems to be set on despair there is a candle or gentle light to point little Paddington (Ben Whishaw) towards potential friends and family. The set design by Cathy Cosgrove is similarly lovely, with a storybook motif throughout the home which Paddington finds himself.

Of similar magic are the performances by Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins as the parents of the Brown home. Bonneville brings a respectability with a tinge of regret to the patriarch of the home, as you see his face fighting a smile and urge to give in to the impulses which once guided his younger self. Hawkins is the magnificent counterpoint and frequently gave me goose bumps with the bristling warmth of her performance. She has this manner, when used well, which makes everything seem wonderful and everything will be alright. Her work is more restrained here than in the similarly positive Happy-Go-Lucky, but the sheer optimism illuminates Paddington.

The story is already an orphan narrative, so the inclusion of other children brings down an otherwise picture perfect setup. Madeline Harris and Samuel Joslin, who play the young Brown siblings, aren’t bad in Paddington, just perfunctory. They don’t illuminate different aspects of Paddington’s condition so much as offer him something to do when the main plot isn’t moving forward. Children are able to relate to magical creatures better than many adults, so the inclusion of the extra Browns is perplexing outside of forcing some kind of “relatability” on the narrative.

No matter how gorgeous the scenes are, any moments involving the children are a serious drag on Paddington.

No matter how gorgeous the scenes are, any moments involving the children are a serious drag on Paddington.

Though this could all, for better or worse, be because of director Paul King’s previous work. He’s one of the people responsible for odd cult hits Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and The Mighty Boosh. Those works tried to balance musical sequences, sometimes nightmarish visuals, droll comedy, and mystical characters. He’s probably one of the best people who could have adapted Paddington, but his strengths comes with drawbacks. Paddington does not balance tones effectively as the insufferable physical humor proves an awkward neighbor to the light storybook moments. The inclusion of scenery chewing performances from Nicole Kidman and Peter Capaldi signals yet another shift into more manic energy levels, dissipating the goodwill from the quieter moments.

I admit to no fondness for Paddington as a child, but during the better moments of his feature film I felt a slight longing to look into his origins. Then we'd be treated to yet another soundtrack with "I Feel Good" and "Born to Be Wild" and those feelings dissipated.  Too many plodding scenes with the children, terrible physical humor, and manic tone shifts disrupted the careful magic of the best scenes in Paddington. Parents and children may be pleased in parts, but the whole is too uneven to recommend.

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Paddington - TailPaddington (2015)

Directed by Paul King.
Screenplay written by Paul King and Hamish McColl.
Starring Ben Whishaw, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, and Nicole Kidman.

Posted by Andrew

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