Preaching a positive, political message to children in an accessible and playful manner, without compromising the entertainment and frivolity of a production is by no means an easy task. However it’s something that director Paul King has accomplished with ease in his cinematic reimagining of Paddington – as we explore acceptance and prejudice in an easily comprehensible way, in a film that can – and will – be enjoyed by children and parents alike.
The tale begins in Peru, where a young bear (Ben Whishaw) is forced to leave behind his auntie and uncle following an earthquake. In search of a more prosperous and safer life, he sets off to England, arriving at Paddington station with nothing but a sign around his neck and a marmalade sandwich kept under his red hat, in case of emergencies. Searching for an old explorer who had once invited the bears to come and stay, instead he is taken in by Mr. and Mrs. Brown (Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins). While initially reluctant to let this stranger into their house, when he is pursued by the evil taxidermist Millicent (Nicole Kidman), they do all they can to protect their new guest.
Though about a talking bear, Paddington is about as human a tale as you could wish for, being a reflection of anyone who has moved to a new country, desperate to fit in with their cultural surroundings and make a new home for themselves on foreign soil. However King, alongside renowned producer David Heyman, ensure it doesn’t become too political a piece, and the story takes place in something of a fantasy world, where the surrealism is ramped up to a point that a talking bear is just a normal, everyday occurrence. London may be the backdrop – and we use real place-names for the most part – but it’s like a magical kingdom in this instance: vibrant, effervescent and vivacious. But it doesn’t glorify the city either, as we get a sense for the hustle and bustle; with London depicted as a place that is full of people – and yet can be quite lonely.
The performances are all more than commendable too, with supporting roles falling to the likes of Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters and Matt Lucas. However the real star of the show is Whishaw, who turns in an incredibly sincere display; albeit just a vocal performance. It all helps in creating a film that is heartfelt, poignant and profound, and yet for the most part, completely and utterly absurd and exuberant. Sometimes, with a family feature of this ilk, you can’t ask for more than that.