By Jacob Rich, Daily Film Editor
Published January 19, 2015
When I walked out of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” last March, I felt several conflicting emotions. I was exuberant, having just experienced such a beautiful and absorbing film, but also somewhat sad, as I realized that I would have to wait another two years to get to experience another new Wes Anderson movie.
Rave and Quality 16
Thanks to “Paddington,” I really only had to wait 10 months.
No, Anderson didn’t actually have anything to do with this film. But “Paddington” imitates the beautiful, creative imagery that Anderson’s films are known for (complete with his quirky rule-of-thirds-breaking cinematographic style), while simultaneously and expertly emulating the innocent, non-cynical and nostalgic emotional content of his kid-friendly films (like “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “Moonrise Kingdom”).
But it’s not just a Wes Anderson rip-off. “Paddington” carves out its own identity as a unique tale about immigration, and the hardships immigrants face when acclimating to their new surroundings.
“Paddington” is a screen adaptation of an extraordinarily popular icon of British children’s literature: Paddington Bear. Paddington (Ben Whishaw, “Skyfall”) is a polite, hopeful and naïve to a fault young bear from “darkest” Peru, who, due to a series of tragic events, is sent by his aunt to find a new home in London. Its narrative champions the importance of immigrants to an urban society, and one of its villains (Peter Capaldi, BBC’s “Doctor Who”) is an obvious parody of the far-right anti-immigrant groups of the United Kingdom like the British National Party.
While the story is one of a political nature, the film never feels stuffy or overly preachy. On the contrary, this film is the shot of pure non-cynical warmth that the increasingly cynical world of children’s cinema needs. “Paddington” is less concerned with minute-to-minute laughs or beat-you-over-the-head morals and more in love with cinematic beauty. Every shot is lavishly and individually treated as its own diorama of interesting objects, and part of the fun of the film is discovering what visual treats the filmmakers have around every corner. Perhaps it’ll be a pointlessly complex steampunk-style filing system in the library, or a painting on the wall that animates to reflect the emotions of the house’s residents. “Paddington” is chock-full of these wonderful visual flourishes.
The narrative of “Paddington” works because of its distinctly British sensibilities surrounding the potential absurdity of having human actors speak to a talking, cuddly bear. You’d expect a film like this to fall prey to the obvious set of jokes involving anthropomorphic animals in film: the exclamations of finding “a real-life talking bear” and the inevitable slapstick humor to follow. It thankfully avoids that altogether by having the human characters quite amusingly just not care that Paddington happens to be a talking bear. This narrative choice cuts out unnecessary plot hang-ups and leads to some funny dialogue moments (“just keep walking, that bear is probably just selling something.”)
It also works because of its superb technical sensibility with its CGI. Paddington, constructed of a blend of animatronics and CGI, is a technical accomplishment, and looks far less out of place strolling through London than the half-CGI dwarves did stomping around Middle Earth in the recent “Hobbit” movies.
“Paddington” is an expert piece of children’s cinema. It’s a shame it likely won’t be as popular in the Americas as it will be in the UK, because its simple beauty is universal.