Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Movie Review: Paddington

Well hello there, and welcome to 2015! The turn of the year traditionally brings with it all sorts of plans and resolutions, but you won't find any here, other than to try and keep posting about stuff I've enjoyed (and occasionally not-enjoyed) in a hopefully mildly diverting sort of way. As such, the choice of the first thing to post for the year can be a bit of a hard one - should it be the first thing I saw in the New Year? Something wrapping up the Old Year? In the end, I decided to go for something that does, at least, sum up a plan for the year, and that plan is to take Robert (4) to more movies and hopefully infect him with the love of cinema that has always been part of our household (I hope). We sucessfully took him last year, so, faced with a Training Day of just the two of us, I thought I'd take him to see Paddington

Like many of my generation I have a huge soft spot for Paddington bear. We had one, of course, a battered bear in a blue greatcoat and red hat, and the TV show, with its black-and-white backgrounds, stop-motion bear and silky-smooth narrative tones, was a stable of my childhood viewing. Updating him to a CG nightmare capering around and pratfalling in the modern style, like some sort of furry Jar-Jar Binks was the sort of idea that wakes you up in cold sweats, fond memories burning away in the cold heat of modern "re-imagining". The first trailer, and the much-published loss of Colin Firth as a voice artist only fed the foreboding, as well as the storm-in-a-marmalade-jar of it's PG rating. But then the reviews hit, and they seemed to herald that all was, in fact well, and so when Robert said he wanted to see it, off we went. 

And you know what? Its really rather sweet. It starts well, which helps, with newsreel footage of an English explorer in Darkest Peru meeting up with a tribe of bears with whom he shares stories of London, jars of Marmalade, and typically English mannerisms. It's into this household, we learn, that Paddington is raised on hopes of one visiting London, where everyone is made welcome. And after a suitably "Bambi" moment, off he goes, only to find it is not quite the welcoming place he has been led to believe.  So yes, this is the Paddington Origin Story, with many of the beats you'd expect from that, including a gradual introduction of familiar (to adult) trappings of the eponymous bear. 

What elevates it from a box-ticking exercise is twofold. Firstly, its is genuinely funny, occasionally touching, and incredibly warm-hearted. There are some great jokes about the adults, that rather than the now-traditional "wink at the screen" gags are slightly closer to the bone; especially the wonderful cut-away about what happens when you first become a parent. There is, of course, a lot of slapstick, but less than the trailers would have you believe and it's well integrated to the narrative rather than distanced set pieces. Especially the bit with the sellotape. 

The second point is that the film is, at heart, about the immigrant experience to London, as a city made up of immigrant experiences. Much of the incidental soundtrack comes from a West Indian Band, for instance, and several characters also reference it either directly or indirectly. It's a film that attempts to portray a community that is occasionally wary of the new and different but ultimately welcoming and friendly, and thats a great message to send out, especially in these days of a poisoned immigration debate. 

More importantly Robert really enjoyed it, although some bits were scary (mostly Nicole Kidman, although "scary" wouldn't be a word I would have used to describe her) and we need to work on "sitting still". It is, in fact, a near perfect film for that sort of age-group, as I'd imagine the 10+ audience wouldn't find it exciting enough. But I enjoyed it, Robert loved it, and it's a great way to start the year.