Family Film Review: "Paddington" (2015, Directed By Paul King, Starring Ben Whishaw, Sally Hawkins)
Those Looking For That 'Harry Potter' Magic Will Be Pleased To See 'Paddington' Firing On All Creative Cylinders
"Paddington" is the lovechild of the producers of the incredibly successful and well-made "Harry Potter" film franchise. If you find yourself one of those avid book readers and filmgoers who wishes to replicate some of that magic again and don't have the patience to wait for J.K Rowling's film adaptation of her forthcoming "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" will be truly in luck with this film. Combining many of the slick visual elements, star-studded British cast and high-flying whimsical nature of her aforementioned series, this film finds itself resonating as not just a faithful translation of its source, but also a genuinely fun piece that tugs on your heartstrings and places your faith back in non-Disney/Pixar animation.
For those unfamiliar with the series of childrens books, they were first published in 1958 by Michael Bond and were called "Paddington Bear" books. He went on to feature in more than 20 books by Bond and many of the editions were translated into some 30 languages. Bond has characterized Paddington as a very polite bear who refers to anyone in a proper, formal way. He gets into trouble not purposefully, but rather haphazardly as he is well intentioned but frequently absent-minded. Paddington is, as Bond had written him, a perfectionist and he strives very hard to impress people especially when he first meets the Brown family and in his general day-to-day life. The movie gets all these things right and the material doesn't show its age at all.
The production design and technical mastery is the most remarkable thing about the film, at first glance. Before key players are introduced and the plots play out, the movie immediately greets the viewer with an old-time movie of a long ago wildlife explorer who forges a friendship with two bears who later turn out to be present-day Paddington's aunt and uncle. It is a magical sequence that acts as an excellent opener to all that unravels throughout the course of the film's briskly paced and never overextended run time. The majority of the film is rousing and will enchant any child and, actually, most adults in all of us who wish we could time hop backward. The action sequences (and there are many) are vivid and bold with animated pictures a ‘la the Harry Potter movies, Paddington shimmying down railings and banisters, and even a nifty prisoner escape sequence where the bear uses blow dryers to scale and escape a taxidermy vent. But, thankfully, it is ALL done in the service of the story and its fun-loving characters and doesn't come off as too much or not enough.
One of the other incredible things about it is how seamless the live action actors mesh with the animation. We have yet another who's who of English thespians, many of them holdovers from the Harry Potter series -- Julie Walters (Mrs. Weasley in HP, and Mrs. Bird here), Jim Broadbent (Prof. Slughorn in HP and Mr. Gruber here) and of course Michael Gambon (2nd Dumbledore in HP, Uncle Pastuzo here) & Imelda Staunton (Prof. Umbridge in HP, Aunt Lucy here). The cast rounds out nicely with Nicole Kidman taking a wickedly villainous turn as Millicent who, from the moment we meet her, scene-steals straightaway. Doctor Who's Peter Capaldi also brings his A-Game, sparingly, as the Browns' initially mischievous next door neighbor Mr. Curry who later becomes an unlikely ally. And, truth be told, the kids who play Judy and Jonathan Brown are a delight and actually feel like lived-in characters and real children. Casting wise, the film's vibrant center belongs to Sally Hawkins as Mrs. Brown who takes a break from her more dramatic turn in Woody Allen's 2013 film "Blue Jasmine". Hawkins effortlessly transmits that sweet, moral, center and her scenes are so heartwarming they'll undoubtedly make you shed a tear. After all, it is her that brings up the startlingly loony idea to have Paddington live with the Browns but it all pays off remarkably by film's end in some of the most moving 20 minutes an animated flick has ever captured.
Ben Whishaw, the voice of Paddington does exceedingly well with his first animated flick. The actor has made quite a name for himself as Agent Q in the Daniel Craig starring James Bond flicks 2012's "Skyfall" and soon to arrive "Spectre." Every exaggerated facial expression, every eye-popping detail he nails perfectly. His voice --- medium-to-high pitch gives Paddington the childlike innocence that readers of the source would approve of. The funniest scenes are of him scarfing down many jars of home made marmalade, which, in the book's universe is the most desirable food source for bears. There is even a fast forward which finds Paddington a full-time resident at the Browns' where he has Mr. Brown taste a batch of his homemade jam. It's a great scene and really brings closure to the events that came before.
To call this the "Lego Movie" of 2015, as some other critics have already concluded, is a distinct honor and, at this point, is totally fitting. I scarcely doubt any of the Disney/Pixar or DreamWorks stuff (and yes, you, SpongeBob) will likely hold a candle to this film. Brad Bird's (Dir. of Disney/Pixar's "The Incredibles") upcoming sci-fi/fantasy film "Tomorrowland" might be Paddington's only real contender this year. In all honesty, this is a movie that truly captures the magic of the 'Harry Potter' films and then some and in a lot of ways acts as a logical extension of the technology that those films produced more than 10 years ago.
So, if you are looking for a fun, candy-colored romp of a good time and have little ones, THIS is the film to see right now. Or, if you have fond memories as a pre-teen/teen going to see "Harry Potter" when it first hit theaters and have been following the books and movies ever since, I entreat you to see it. GREATLY RECOMMENDED :)