January is filled with snow, harsh winds, and cloudy skies, and cinemas are filled with Hollywood’s winter garbage and Oscar-nominated films grasping for audiences’ attentions before they are forgotten. It’s a mishmash of Hollywood’s most memorable and Hollywood’s most forgettable. Luckily, a ray of sunshine has penetrated the dreary skies of winter and offers warmth and more than a few laughs: Paddington, based on the famed series of children’s books originally written by Michael Bond (who makes a brief cameo) and illustrated by Peggy Fortnum.
The character of Paddington the bear is a national treasure in England and has been warmly embraced in America since his first appearance in 1958. Those who enjoyed the adventures of the bear with a “worrying marmalade habit” growing up will find that the source material has not been sullied, but lovingly expanded. If you are new or have never heard of Paddington before, don’t worry, you’ll become a fast convert. It would be hard for even Ebenezer Scrooge not to crack a smile during this film.
The film begins in Paddington’s native land of “darkest Peru,” where an explorer has discovered a new type of bear which can learn to speak English at an astonishingly quick rate. The explorer leaves him behind a red hat and a couple of bears with a love for marmalade and an open invitation to visit London. Years later, Uncle Pastuzo (voiced by Michael Gambon) and Aunt Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton), along with their adopted nephew Paddington (perfectly voiced by Ben Whishaw), have converted their tree home into a marmalade factory. When an earthquake destroys Paddington’s home, he is sent by his Aunt to London to find a family that will adopt him. In come the Browns, led by the uptight patriarchal head of the family, Henry Brown (Hugh Bonneville) with his wife Mary Brown (Sally Hawkins) and their daughter and son, Judy and Jonathan. Against Mr. Brown’s wishes, the family adopts the homeless bear and names him after the train station, in which they found him, Paddington. It is not long before Paddington attracts the attention of the Brown’s lonely and nosey neighbor Mr. Curry (Peter Capaldi) and a psychotic taxidermist (Nicole Kidman).
The film is filled with inventive and imaginative ways of telling its story, from the complex series of pneumatic mail tubes that cover the Explorers club to the toy train that brings tea and pastries to visitors of an antiques shop. Paddington himself is a seamless combination of CGI and animatronics. The animated bear fits perfectly in this idealized portrayal of London. Director Paul King, mostly a television and British Independent filmmaker, would be mistaken as a seasoned pro with the command he and the special effects team display over handling the practical and computer effects on which the film relies heavily. Paddington is a less expensive and more rewarding alternative winter pick-me-up for the family than dragging them on a vacation.