A Marmalade Sandwich in Your Hat: Paddington (2014)
It takes a lot to warm my cold and cynical little heart, but Paddington has exactly what it takes every single time. The adventures of the charming animated bear in the blue rain slicker and red hat with his human foster family are simply delightful. Brought to life with beautiful animation, Paddington must go through some tough times to prove his worth to the patriarch of his adopted family. The journey is pure movie magic, blending a heartwarming story with great effects and performances to create something truly special.
Little Paddington lives in his lush jungle home in Peru with his aunt and uncle. It’s a paradise flush with beauty and marmalade, until a rainstorm devastates the land, prompting Paddington to be sent away, stowed on a freighter ship that takes him across the ocean. Stranded in London with no family or shelter, Paddington mopes about, looking for someone to help him around this unknown world. A good samaritan does come along eventually when Mrs. Brown (Sally Hawkins) invites the bear over to her home where she lives with her two children, who take to him immediately, and her husband (Hugh Bonneville), who definitely does not.
Mr. Brown’s understandable fear of living with a talking bear is only stoked when the bear causes mischief around the house, including a particularly whimsical scene where he fills the place with water and rides the dislodged bathtub down the stairs. Mr. Brown’s not the only one that has it out for Paddington, though. When a world class taxidermist, Millicent (Nicole Kidman), finds out about the phenomenon, she strives to add him to her collection. After he’s kicked out of the Brown’s home, he is kidnapped by her and it’s up to the Browns to save him.
Paddington is one of the best CGI creations I’ve ever seen. He blends in seamlessly with his surroundings, feeling like an actual living and breathing creature. Most CGI creatures suffer from leaning either too heavily towards realism, leading to an odd uncanny valley feel. Luckily Paddington walks the line between cute design and realistic bear quite well, and the effects around him are impressive to boot. The aforementioned rainforest and bathtub scenes are greatly detailed and exciting to watch, with some especially impressive water effects. Of course, all the impressive CGI would mean little without a noteworthy performance, which Ben Whishaw provides in spades.
It’s worth noting that Paddington was originally supposed to be voiced by Colin Firth, his performance was tossed out mere months before the film’s debut in favor of Ben Whishaw. No footage of Firth’s performance has released, but Whishaw’s is so good that I couldn’t see anybody else, regardless of their talent, doing the role. His younger, softer voice perfectly accompanies the sense of childlike wonder that the film gets across so well. It’s not just Whishaw that impresses, Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville endear with their respective roles as believer and skeptic. Bonneville’s arc, from a man (understandably) unsure about an actual bear living in the home with his children to a loving adopted father, is particularly compelling. And Nicole Kidman’s over the top “moose and squirrel” villain performance is fitting and fun.
I haven’t been enraptured by a children’s movie this much since I was a child myself. As much as I may love recent animated movies like Inside Out and Wreck-It Ralph, nothing has brought about such a sense of awe. Wondrous effects, an earnest playful energy, winning performances, Paddington is the total package. Early reports seem to suggest that the sequel has been able to recapture the magic, and I couldn’t be more excited to watch it.