The Movie Waffler New Release Review - <i>Paddington</i> | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - Paddington

Michael Bond's little Peruvian bear finds his way to the big screen.

Review by Joshua LF Mitchell

Directed by: Paul King

Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Nicole Kidman, Ben Wishaw, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi

The tragedy of Paddington:  Released in 2014 everywhere but America, this CGI/Live Action hybrid hit US theaters on January 16th. The trailers for said film (previewed in front of practically every family film for the past 6 months) have been offensively awful. Showcasing the worst of gross-out gags and tiresome slapstick, many (myself included) had written off Paddington as 2015's Yogi Bear or Alvin and the Chipmunks. We were all so, so, so wrong. Paddington sits comfortably next to Nanny McPhee and Mary Poppins as one of the most delightful live-action family films in years. Sadly, those that would appreciate the movie most have already turned away due to the un-bear-able trailers. Still, it makes me happy to think that a great many parents being dragged to the cinemas will be in for one of the most pleasant movie-related surprises of their life.
Based on the popular British books by Michael Bond, Paddington is about a small, talking bear who is forced to abandon his home in Peru and move to London. Paddington is in search of an explorer who once showed kindness to his aunt and uncle, but is unable to locate him without help. Luckily, the Brown family, consisting of a young son, a teenage daughter, and a mother and father decide to temporarily allow the bear to stay with them (the father agrees, quite reluctantly). But there is an evil taxidermist who is extremely interested in capturing Paddington for her own wicked reasons.
Just like many other surprised critics, I am trying to assist in damage control for a movie that won't receive nearly as much attention as it deserves in the US. A very similar thing occurred last year with Edge of Tomorrow, and it has attained a cult following. Paddington is unlikely to receive such, which is absolutely depressing.
If you've seen the trailers (and if you have or know any kids, I'm fairly certain you have), you've seen the film at its worst. I won't lie to you; everything you saw in the trailers is in the movie, and for the most part, it's not any more tolerable. But just as the laughable romance in Hunger Games served a purpose, as does the the slapstick and toilet-water-drinking here. It gets butts into seats.
At my screening, kids laughed and laughed through every minute of slapstick. They would get somewhat restless during the talkier bits, but the theater would again spring to life when Paddington falls down an escalator or rides a bathtub down the stairs. So while the slapstick is obnoxious, it's there to keep the kids entertained. In between the exhaustive kiddie hijinks, there's a real sense of movie magic at play.
The set-up to the main story is surprisingly emotional. It got pretty dusty in the theater at this point, and this wasn't the only time! Even with the silliness, Paddington establishes very quickly that its ambitions are much higher than that of Alvin, Yogi, or Bill Murray's Garfield.
There's a lot of clever dialogue that will go right over the heads of most attending children, but their parents will elicit appreciative chuckles. The visuals are really beautiful at times, and the CGI/animatronic Paddington Bear is integrated seamlessly. The cinematography is surprisingly impressive as well. There's a real sense of craft here that is so often missed in these sort of films.  
The cast is an utter delight. Colin Firth famously dropped out of the role of Paddington Bear (shortly after the first trailers hit, in fact; make of it what you will) and was replaced with Ben Whishaw, who is a perfect fit for the lovable animal. Hugh Bonneville shows impressive range in comedy and drama as his role as Mr. Brown, and his more adventuresome wife is adorably performed by Sally Hawkins. Their children are capably played by Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin, and Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, and Peter Capaldi are highly amusing in comedic side performances. Nicole Kidman as the antagonist is more restrained than one might expect, but that's a refreshing change from the over-hyper slapstick.
Nick Urata's score is really wonderful. Quiet waltzes and piano pieces thoughtfully address the more poignant scenes, but Urata's delightful comedy work makes the slapstick tolerable. The only problem is some obvious temp-tracking throughout (Danny Elfman's Edward Scissorhands is immediately noticeable), and one unsubtle nod to Mission Impossible.
Though it does transcend the generational gap in the way that Pixar so frequently does, Paddington is superior entertainment for any and all ages. Though it would have been more enjoyable without all the slapstick (and that bathroom scene in particular should have never been seen), but if that's what gets kids into the theater, I guess that's that. Still, with everything else Paddington has to offer, including its surprisingly touching moments littered throughout, I can't find it in my heart to complain too much. Paddington won't finish the year as my favorite film of 2015, but it will probably be the most charming.