By BRUCE DENNILL
Paddington / Directed by Paul King / PG
Bond. Michael Bond. The former soldier and Blue Peter cameraman probably doesn’t introduce himself like that, but now, at nearly 90, he’s likely to enjoy a whole new level of popularity as the author of the books behind this brilliantly made adaptation.
Much of the film’s success is down to the profound Britishness – evident in the original stories and cleverly maintained by director Paul King here – of the whole tale. To wit: Paddington’s aunt and uncle are discovered in what is routinely referred to as Darkest Peru by an English explorer who travels with a grandfather clock and a piano as part of his “bare essentials”. His attempt to collect a specimen – i.e. shoot – of a new species of (talking) bear he discovers is derailed when the creature disarms and befriends him, before introducing the bufuddled adventurer to its clan. They part friends, with the explorer’s influence felt in the mannerisms and cultural tics – including a love of marmalade – retained by the bears.
Later, in London, Paddington’s foster family comprises Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins and Julie Walters – a more British trio is difficult to imagine – plus assorted children, with Doctor Who (perhaps the quintessential British TV series) veteran Peter Capaldi as a grumpy neighbour.
Even Nicole Kidman, as a particularly svelte taxidermist who has a deadly agenda regarding Paddington, comes from Australia, a member of the Commonwealth.
Integrity, good cast and strong script intact, then, it was up to the technical crew to not make the piece look like a transplanted episode of Pumpkin Patch. The “visual effects” section of the credits features by far the longest list of names in terms of the behind-the-scenes team, and it is their combined efforts that give Paddington an immediate advantage over similar fare but will also guarantee that the film enjoys longevity.
Paddington and his family never feel like the “adapted human” likes of the apes in the most recent chapters of the Planet Of The Apes franchise, in which viewers might fancy they can see the actor working beyond the make-up and animation.
Rather, the little bear fits remarkably naturally into a human habitat, and the film’s audience have no problem accepting him as an addition to that scenario, rather than being struck by the bizarre concept of a wild animal from a South American rain forest being assimilated into a posh London home.
The script for Paddington is perhaps a little light on the sort of humour that might appeal only to adult viewers while in no way halting the momentum of the piece for kids, and trails behind the likes of the Smurfs and Muppets films in that regard. But in every other way, it is so carefully and lovingly crafted that most viewers won’t notice or care about what could be seen as a missed opportunity.
A film to take the whole family to, and perhaps buy for the collection when it’s released on DVD.