By Bob Garver
Feb. 3, 2015. It was inevitable that “American Sniper” would continue to rule the box office this past weekend, so the interesting battle was for second place. I was reasonably sure that it would go to a new release like the annoyingly-delayed time travel escapade “Project Almanac” or the Kevin Costner heartstring-puller “Black or White.” But in what I would call a major upset, all new releases were outdone by third-weekend holdover “Paddington.” I actually did see “Project Almanac” and it bored me silly, so I’m glad I have an excuse to review “Paddington” instead.
The film tells the story of the precocious bear from Peru (Ben Whishaw) who has been raised by bears who interacted with an English explorer years earlier. He has a loose, third-hand knowledge of English culture, though he speaks the language almost perfectly. A disaster forces him to leave Peru and travel to London where he has to interact with humans for the first time in his life.
After a rocky start in London, he’s taken in by a human family, The Browns. Mr Brown (High Bonneville) frets nonstop about his family’s well-being and has no desire to take in an exotic bear, no matter how cultured. Mrs. Brown (Sally Hawkins) can’t pass up the opportunity to help a creature in need. Teenage daughter Judy (Madeleine Harris)wants nothing to do with the lame bear and his embarrassing behavior. Young son Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) is more receptive to the idea. The Browns aren’t really keen on adopting the bear permanently, so they resolve to put him in touch with the explorer who interacted with his family previously and see if he can give him a home. But they do go through the trouble of naming the bear Paddington so he will feel more at home in London; this despite the objections of Mr. Brown, who doesn’t want Paddington to feel at home at all.
Conflict arises in the form of Millicent Clyde (Nicole Kidman), a museum taxidermist who wants a Peruvian bear as part of her collection. She pursues poor Paddington with an almost personal passion, and it turns out that she has a deeper motive other than just plain evil, though she has plenty of that as well. I have to say that I find it an odd choice that the villain wants to stuff Paddington since I’m sure the film is supposed to be pushing stuffed Paddinton Bear dolls. Go to a toy store and it will look like she succeeded several times over.
The humor in the film is all over the place. The film loves to play Paddinton’s clumsiness for laughs, including the famous bathroom scene from the trailer. That single, painful sequence is probably the reason this film got bumped out of its cushy Christmas slot and stuck in the wasteland that is January. There are many smarter, darker gags in the film (I loved Mr. Brown trying to convince everybody to send Paddington to a government facility and dancing around that unpleasant word “orphanage”), but the film has a bad habit of going back to those lowbrow “elaborate accident” gags.
“Paddington” is, more than anything, incredibly sweet. And I’m not just saying that because there are copious amounts of marmalade in every scene. Like Paddington himself, it’s hard to stay mad at such an adorable movie. Of course, it helps if you see it with kids, who will eat it up like so much marmalade (yes, I know that’s the second marmalade reference, but the movie is obsessed with it and now I want some). I saw it in a crowded theatre with a whole bunch of kids, and although I wish they hadn’t validated some of the film’s dumber gags, I couldn’t help but get caught up in the overwhelming cheer.
Two and a half stars out of five.