The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"PADDINGTON"

Paddington

The preview for Paddington didn't seem terribly promising. It showed the titular bear in a bathroom, sticking toothbrushes in his ears, then tasting the wax after pulling them out. I expected one of those dumb family movies that mistake such grossout material – along with burps, farts, and other lowbrow hijinks – for hipness. While it's true that Paddington does utilize such things for humor, it's so sweet and charming that they come off cute rather than obnoxious. The film also has a great big heart.

This is the story of Paddington bear (voiced by Ben Wishaw), who goes from the darkest recesses of Peru to London, in search of the explorer who civilized his family many years before. Paddington is taken in by the Brown family – father Henry (Hugh Bonneville), mother Mary (Sally Hawkins), and kids Judy (Madeleine Harris) and Samuel (Jonathan Brown). They agree to help him find the explorer, but his presence also creates a lot of problems. This little bear is like a bull in a china shop, wreaking havoc wherever he goes. Meanwhile, a nasty taxidermist named Millicent (Nicole Kidman) gets word of his presence in London and sets out to capture him for reasons that become clear in the third act.

Paddington has two things I normally dislike in family movies: the aforementioned “rude humor” (as the MPAA calls it) and plots that put the main character(s) in some kind of life-threatening peril. Nonetheless, both work here because writer/director Paul King doesn't use them out of desperation or lack of inspiration. Instead, he uses them to tell a story about the importance of belonging to a family. Paddington is a benevolent, loving creature who tries so hard to fit in with the Browns, only to discover that it's harder than it looks. He exasperates them at first with his destructive antics, yet over time they come to recognize him for who he is inside. Once they do, the family becomes extremely protective when he finds himself in danger. He is, after all, one of them now. This approach makes the silly scenes surprisingly hilarious and the adventure subplot more meaningful than you would expect.

The ace British cast, which also includes Peter Capaldi as a nerdy neighbor who falls in line with Millicent, sells the material with warmth and wit. The real key, however, is Ben Wishaw (Skyfall), who hits just the right note of innocence as Paddington. This is voicework at its most effective, in that the actor creates a whole emotional range for the character, independent of the (outstanding) animation. The Browns fall in love with Paddington, and so do we.

Everything about this movie is fun and entertaining. It's the kind of family film that shows everyone a good time, regardless of age. Paddington also works beautifully as an adoption metaphor, as the Brown family opens its collective heart to love this little guy who comes into their lives, as though he'd been there all along. Here's hoping for more Paddington adventures down the line.

( 1/2 out of four)


Paddington is rated PG for mild action and rude humor. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.


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