Director: Paul King
Writer: Paul King
Based on: Michael Bond‘s books
Cast: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Madeleine Harris, Samuel Joslin, Julie Walters, Nicole Kidman, Peter Capaldi, Imelda Staunton, Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent, Matt Lucas, Steve Oram, Alice Lowe
The bear Paddingtion (Ben Whishaw) was happily living with his aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) and uncle Pastuzo (Michael Gambon) in the Peruvian jungle. But when their home gets destroyed, Lucy sends Paddington to London, hoping that he will find a safe home there, as promised by an explorer who visited them a long time ago. Thankfully shortly after his arrival in London, Paddington meets the Browns – Mary (Sally Hawkins), Henry (Hugh Bonneville) and their children Judy (Madeleine Harris) and Jonathan (Samuel Joslin). Together they start to look for the explorer to find Paddington his safe place. But not everyone is out to help Paddington.
The trailer for Paddington looked awful, full of unfunny slapstick and grossness. I wanted to see it despite the trailer, but was prepared for the worst. And (apart from the general postcolonial qualms I have about the story) I was pleasantly surprised by the film that is much sweeter and funnier than the trailer made me think it was.
There is a general problem that I have with Paddington – and that is not the film’s fault. It’s the fact that Paddington is shaped by colonial (sub-)text. You have the wild animals living in the jungle, who are confronted with British manners and not only learn English to communicate with the explorer [since their own language cannot be learned by British people], but subsequently only speak English with each other, re-building their lives around the culture the explorer brings. The explorer happens to be one of the “good colonizers” who tries to protect the animals from the “bad colonizers” (who quite literally want to put them in a museum) and preserve their natural way of living.
When Paddington arrives in London, he has some inkling of Britishness but still needs to be taught proper manners, before he is finally accepted into Britishness and “finally finds a home” (which is literally how the film puts it) in London, despite his family remaining in Peru. There is a lot of stuff going on there and none of it is particularly savory when looked at through a postcolonial lens (given the source material’s age, that is not surprising) and the entire concept isn’t blatantly racist only because Paddington is a bear and not a human being from Darkest Peru.
And while that did bother me during the film, the film just stuck closely to the books with that narrative and I can only fault it for not subverting it, nothing else. And if you manage to ignore those implications, Paddington really is a very sweet and touching story and film. Is it a revolutionary piece of cinema? No. But it is perfectly family friendly fun.
Especially the cast is really nice – not only that there is a cameo about every five seconds, the main cast is just excellent. I mean, it’s no secret that I love Sally Hawkins no matter what she does, as I do Julie Walters, but I particularly enjoyed Nicole Kidman’s villainess. I was also suprised by Hugh Bonneville’s comedic timing. Who knew that he had some at all?
Bonneville and the film certainly made me laugh – and that’s what I was hoping it would do. Mission accomplished.