ByBenjamin Marlatt, writer at

In the deep jungles of darkest Peru, an explorer by the name of Montgomery Clyde (Tim Downie) has located a family of semi-intelligent bears, Pastuzo (voiced by Michael Gambon), Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton) and their nephew (voiced by Ben Whishaw), who are capable of learning English and have a huge appetite for marmalade. Following a devastating earthquake that destroys their home, Lucy encourages her nephew to find solace in London, the home of the explorer that discovered them. The young bear reaches London, but is unable to find a home, until he is briefly taken in by Henry (Hugh Bonneville) and Mary Brown (Sally Hawkins) and given the name Paddington.

Meanwhile, upon hearing of Paddington’s arrival, the Natural History Museum’s sadistic taxidermist Millicent (Nicole Kidman) makes plans to hunt down the the bear.

There were justifiable reasons for concern with Paddington, which is based on the beloved character from the children’s books by Michael Bond. Switching actors from Colin Firth to Ben Whishaw midway through production and then having your film pushed back from the Christmas blockbuster season to January (although it still opened in November overseas in the UK) is a red flag, but even more cause for concern is taking a look back at the other iconic animated characters from comic strips, TV cartoons, etc. that were turned into feature-length films – The Grinch, The Cat in the Hat, Scooby-Doo, Garfield, The Smurfs, Marmaduke, Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Remember those films? Unfortunately, I do.

Surprisingly, though, I found this film to be well-paced, charming and fun. It’s as predictable as a movie can get, with all the story beats falling into their respective places, but nonetheless I was still entertained, and the fact that I didn’t roll my eyes once – unlike those aforementioned films that had me practically rolling my eyes out of their sockets – is a major improvement for the “classic animated cartoon turned CGI character in a live-action world” market.

Co-writer/director Paul King does a fine job at balancing elements to keep everyone in the family satisfied. The adults have the witty, droll humor (clever word play, odd sight gags, etc.) which is still mild enough to not go over the kids’ heads, and the kids have the expected lively antics, which sometimes delve into gross-out territory, but it’s certainly nothing for parents to be concerned about. Plus, parents can appreciate a break from the cynicism with their kids getting a main character who’s constantly kind-hearted and polite.

King’s finest contribution, though, is in how beautiful this film looks. Cinematographer Erik Wilson provides a gorgeous, polished texture and production designer Gary Williamson creates an appealing setting that combines the old-fashioned, ’50s era sensibilities with a modern touch, immediately drawing comparisons to a Wes Anderson fable or Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (there’s a terrific recurring shot of the Browns’ home setup like a dollhouse).

The cast, a nice gathering of British talent, avoids the usual tedious phoning-in that has dulled the worst of the children’s films and is all game here. Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville and Ben Whishaw – providing an impossible to dislike, heartfelt voice to the titular protagonist – share great comic timing together. Sally Hawkins gets more to do here in just five seconds than she did in the entirety of her wasted screen time in last year’s Godzilla. Dr. Who fans will get a kick out of seeing Peter Capaldi, who plays the obligatory curmudgeon of a neighbor but still earns some laughs, and Nicole Kidman is clearly having a ball as the dastardly villain.

It should be noted that Kidman’s plans are somewhat dark for a kids movie, especially when you take into account how harmless the source material always was. Some may understandably find her role a little off-putting amidst the film’s whimsy, but King still keeps how far her character goes on a tight leash.

Although we’ve seen this narrative play out a thousand times before, Paddington avoids dull familiarity by offering a talented cast that delivers a variety of effective laughs ranging from slapstick for the kids to wry humor for the adults, with a touch of genuine heart added to the mix to balance things out. It’s safe to say this won’t go down as the family film of the year, but for a month that typically offers very little at the cinema, this provides enough amusement to entertain the whole family.

I give Paddington a B (★★★).

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