I went to see Paddington with Jo on Monday night. Paddington and I go way back; back to my childhood, back to stories of an accident prone bear who once tried to make a Baked Alaska… in the oven. Of course he did, where else would you expect to make one? It’s funny but it’s only since the announcement of the film that I remember Michael Bond’s books played just as big a part in my formative years as the ones Roald Dahl wrote.
So, it’s been with a sense of, first, trepidation and then mounting emotion that I awaited the release of this film. When I first saw a poster of the bear, I thought: he doesn’t look right. Of course he didn’t, how could the film version of Paddington match up to the one I, just about, remember from the books? Then, as the reviews began to come in, the look of the bear ceased to matter so much, or I got used to it, and I found myself getting weirdly emotional as I read more and more about this film.
It may seem like I was predisposed to liking this film, but I don’t think you can just like something, you have to be given reasons to like it. And, luckily for me, for everyone, The Mighty Boosh director Paul King has created a film which gives its audience several reasons to not just like it, but to love it. It’s a film for the ages, for all ages.
Any worries I had about this film had entirely dissipated by the time the prologue, in darkes Peru- obvs- had ended with an explorer from the Geographic Guild and his invitation to two bears to come and visit London at some point in the future. To say why would be spoiling a good joke. Now, these two don’t get around to taking the explorer up on his invite. However, they do end up dispatching their nephew, a “very rare bear” indeed, to London in the hope of tracking him down. They do so in the belief that Londoners know how to look after visitors to the city. At this point, I should say, I had come close to tears about three times already- we were barely twenty minutes in.
The initial euphoria of Paddington’s arrival in London quickly gives way to a feeling familiar to anyone alone in a strange land. Having gone to Bilbao as a student in 1998, and having arrived at my destination not knowing anyone and unsure how to proceed, I could well identify with Paddington’s predicament. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I stood, almost literally, in the dark in the kind of gothic hallway which has now been immortalised in several Spanish horror films waiting to be rescued by someone, anyone. Luckily, I came across someone named Mari Paz and she did indeed rescue me. Paddington’s version of Mari Paz is the Brown family or, more accurately, Mrs Brown- wonderfully brought to life by the delightful, and delighted, Sally Hawkins.
Despite the protests of the risk analyst, Mr Brown- played by Hugh Bonneville- and the reservations of her daughter Judy, Mrs Brown brings Paddington home in a taxi driven by Arsenal mad Matt Lucas. You have been in Paddington’s company about twenty minutes and already, you’re rooting for him. I think Ben Wishaw’s voice gives Paddington a kind of quiet dignity. So, when he asks for things from the Browns, you want him to get them. Even when he produces a “hard stare”. I don’t know what I was expecting him to sound like, but from the minute Paddington opens his mouth, he sounds… perfect.
Incidentally, Colin Firth was originally supposed to be the voice of Paddington, but I think he made the right decision to bail out. He would have sounded ridiculous voicing the bear alongside Hugh Bonneville.
So, Paddington arrives in west London with the idea of tracking down this explorer. In the meantime… well, Paddington wouldn’t be Paddington without getting himself into some, best intention type, bizarre situations. In fact, he gets into one almost immediately on his arrival in the Brown home. It isn’t long, though, before danger looms in the form of a deliciously evil taxidermist, played by Nicole Kidman, aided by Peter Capaldi’s Mr Currie- all red eyes and cockney inflections.
Will Paddington find his explorer? What does the taxidermist want? Will she get it? Will Mr Brown open his heart to the “wild animal” in his midst? Obviously, I’m not going to tell you here, nor do I particularly want to ruin any of the surprises the film has in store for you. But I can tell you the film is an absolute riot, a sheer delight from the first to the very last minute. Jim Broadbent puts in a twinkly cameo as Mrs Brown’s antique dealing friend, Mr Gruber. Julie Walters, as the Brown’s housekeeper Mrs Bird, steals practically any scene that she appears in, often without having to say very much. The film itself has a lot to say, without moralising, about the nature of family, how an outsider becomes part of that family and how we make outsiders feel welcome. In increasingly cynical times, it’s something of a treat to have seen something so warm hearted. And, as a proud Londoner, it’s really lovely to see my city celebrated in such a fashion.
I left the cinema thinking that I absolutely can’t wait to see this film again and, a couple of days later, I still feel like that. For me, this is a film that easily stands up alongside the likes of E.T., Toy Story and The Jungle Book. Go and see Paddington, you will not regret it.
Film of the year- definitely.