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REVIEW: “Paddington”

REVIEW: "Paddington"

Since his debut in 1958 in “A Bear Called Paddington” by
Michael Bond, Paddington Bear has become a beloved figure around the world.
More than 30 million “Paddington” books have been sold worldwide in 30
languages.

The character is so beloved, he’ll probably survive Paul
King’s formulaic live-action film Paddington.
King also shares writing credit with Hamish McColl for a tale partially adapted
from some of Bond’s original stories and partially borrowed from other films,
notably Mary Poppins.

Paddington (voice by Ben Whishaw) comes from “darkest Peru”
to London, where he’s found alone and forlorn in Paddington Station by the
Brown family. In Bond’s stories, Henry Brown worked for the City of London;
King makes Mr. Bond (Hugh Bonneville) an uptight, overly-cautious “risk
analyst” who’s so obviously modeled on Mr. Banks in Mary Poppins, he might as well be working at the Fidelity Fiduciary
Bank. The serious-minded Mrs. Brown (Sally Hawkins) is now a flighty
illustrator.

Although it’s not clear exactly when the film is set—anachronisms
like telephones with big dials and computers with disc drives abound–Judy (Madeleine
Harris)

and Jonathan Brown (Samuel Joslin) have been given standard contemporary
kids’ angst. Judy is embarrassed by her “weird” family; Jonathan chafes at his
father’s admonitions against doing anything remotely dangerous or fun. They
both regard their mother as odd and their father as dreary, not without good
reason.

After citing statistics about the supposed dangers of having
a bear in a London home, Mr. Brown agrees to take one in temporarily.
Paddington wants to find the mysterious explorer who visited his family in Peru
decades ago and exposed his Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) and Uncle Pastuzo
(Michael Gambon) to the English language and orange marmalade. When he left,
the explorer assured them of a warm welcome if they ever came to London.

Despite his good intentions, Paddington raises havoc in the
Browns’ posh home at 32 Windsor Terrace. He floods the bathroom, and rides the
water down the multi-story spiral staircase in the bathtub, recalling similar
scenes in The Pirates! Band of Misfits and
the Ice Age films. The next morning,
he misunderstands the signs and causes mass confusion in a Tube station. But he
redeems himself by catching a pickpocket in a protracted chase scene that
echoes the ending of Toy Story.

King and McColl have added a subplot in which the explorer’s
daughter Millicent (Nicole Kidman, camping her way through a role Madeline Kahn
would have made hilarious) wants to turn Paddington into a stuffed specimen in the
Museum of Natural History to vindicate her father’s account of his voyage to
Peru. Does a rejected Paddington fall into her icy clutches? Does the Brown
family rally and rush to his rescue in the nick of time? Does no-longer-uptight
Mr. Brown declare that his family needs Paddington as much as he needs them?

Does anyone need to ask?

The film ends with Mr. and Mrs. Brown more in love than
ever, and Judy and Jonathan liking their parents, who no longer seem weird or irrelevant.
When dad joins the kids in a snowball fight, all that’s missing is the strains
of “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.”

Paddington has been animated four times since 1975: Twice by
FilmFair using 3D puppets, and in drawn animation by Hanna-Barbera and Cinar
Films. The animated versions were based on Peggy Fortnum’s original water color
illustrations, which displayed an unpretentious charm that was also evident in
the first stuffed toys in 1972.

 Moving the character
into the real world to interact with humans causes problems. The motion
capture-based animation forces the artists to rework the human actor’s movements
to fit the anatomy of a bear, and the results are often awkward: part real
bear, part Country Bear Jamboree. It’s especially difficult to move a bear’s
long muzzle in ways that match the dialogue: The mouth shapes aren’t convincing.
(Animators faced similar problems with Splinter in last year’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.) Nor is
the design for Paddington particularly attractive. Do audiences really want to
see the familiar character with “real” fur—especially wet fur? The more
stylized treatment of Lotso in Toy Story
created a more appealing bear who expressed emotions believably.

The closing shots of Paddington seated by a Christmas tree suggest the film was planned for a
holiday release. There’s not much to take kids to in January, but they’ll have
more fun going to see Big Hero 6 again.

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