Based on the much-loved children’s books by Michael Bond, “Paddington” begins in “darkest Peru” as jaunty English explorer Montgomery Clyde (Tim Downie) discovers Lucy and Pastuzo (voices of Imelda Staunton and Michael Gambon), a family of super intelligent, anglophile bears. Before heading back to old Blighty Clyde teaches them the Queen’s English, introduces them to marmalade, gifts them a floppy bright red hat and an invitation to stop by should they ever find themselves in London.
Cut to decades later. In the grand tradition of kid’s stories, an orphaned child (voice of Ben Whishaw)—in this case the marmalade-obsessed grandson of Lucy and Pastuzo—is forced to take a great journey to safety. The cub, armed only with a “worrying marmalade problem” and the distinctive red hat, lands at Paddington Station in London. Instead of the warm welcome he expected, he’s met with indifference.
“Keep your eyes down, there’s some sort of bear over there.”
After a long wait, Mr. and Mrs. Brown (“Downton Abbey’s” Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins) and kids Judy and Jonathan (Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin) take pity on the polite little bear and bring him home, but only for one night. Of course, one night turns into a longer stay as the Browns learn to love the little bear, even though chaos follows his every step. Adding drama to the story is an ursophobic neighbor (“Doctor Who’s” Peter Capaldi) and a crazed taxidermist (Nicole Kidman).
Warm, funny and as eccentric as a movie about a talking bear should be, “Paddington” is great family entertainment. Director Paul King keeps up the pace—this is not a teddy bore!—but never allows the film to become frenetic. The action scenes are fun, yet gentle, amusing and inventive. Paddington’s unintentional takedown of a pickpocket is a wonderful, silly gag that captures and updates the spirit of the old “Paddington” books with an up-to-date look and feel for a new generation.
Laugh out loud funny—for kids and parents—“Paddington” also offers up a message of tolerance. “In London everyone is different,” says Paddington, “so everyone can fit in.” It’s a big idea, washed down with a giant melting-pot of marmalade, but also a timely one.