Since the reviews started coming in for Paddington, I have found the film to be a major curiosity. It’s a kid’s film that was released during January’s customary cinematic dry spell, which certainly didn’t bode well for the film being any good, and yet rave reviews kept pouring in. And now, having seen the film, I completely understand why. While I wouldn’t go so far as to claim this as any sort of cinematic masterwork, Paddington is a fantastic example of how to do children’s entertainment while still maintaining a fun story that adults can enjoy and provide a surprising amount of subtextual nuance.
The film starts off with Paddington living in Deepest Peru with his aunt and uncle, a couple of talking bears who had been introduced to English culture by an explorer from decades earlier. When their home is destroyed, Paddington ventures to England to make a new life for himself. Upon arrival, he discovers that England is not all the niceties and proper manners that he was taught to believe it was, and finds himself without a home to go to. Enter the Brown family, whose patriarch is at first reluctant to take Paddington in, yet relents at his wife’s insistence at helping the needy. With the Browns’ help, Paddington tries to find the explorer who visited his family, and yet he and the Browns discover that maybe he belongs in their family after all.
How the film manages to entertain both children and adults is rarely seen in modern children’s entertainment, as the obligatory physical comedy is never overblown or gratuitous, yet enough witty jokes slip their way into the dialogue so as to provide some genuine moments of laughter for the film’s more refined audience, all without relying on crassness or lewdness, the so-called “adult” humor. It’s rather refreshing to see some actual thought be put into making a film universally entertaining rather than taking slapstick animation and adding some fart jokes and pop culture references.
The film truly shines, though, in that there’s a very clear subtext that Paddington is representative of immigrants from former English colonies. The fact that he is a bear allows for Paddington to have some particularly unique mannerisms, yet he is still a distinctly British personality. He feels he belongs with the culture on which he was raised, and yet, due to his particularities and appearance, most of English society considers him an outsider, if not an outright menace. The film never goes so far as to make the comparison blatant, but subtle nods to latent English imperialist racism are certainly there, making the film a surprisingly intelligent message of tolerance and acceptance that should only become more resonant as the film’s audience grows in years.
Now, the film isn’t perfect, as Nicole Kidman makes an appearance as an almost entirely superfluous villain character who wishes to taxidermize Paddington and display him in a museum. Though the story does a decent job of weaving her into the narrative, she serves little point in resolving Paddington and the Browns’ character arcs other than to be an obligatory kids’ film villain. Seeing as the film is strongest when it’s portraying Paddington as a stranger in a strange land, I would have liked to see more of Paddington getting used to London, rather than the brief snippets we see of him exploring on his own.
However, this is admittedly a nitpick. Paddington is a surprisingly intelligent and fun movie that just about anyone of any age should be able to enjoy. It offers a compelling family message that should make it a classic for many years to come.
Any recent children’s films surprise you lately with their quality? Let me know in the comments below.