Paddington Bear, as anyone who grew up with the character knows, is a gentle character. He may get into sticky situations, but things always turn out well in the end and his adopted family will always love him. From the successful series of books, there’s been three TV series, plenty of merchandise and two successful feature films, all of which have captivated the hearts of generations.
One thing that he’s not particularly known for is busting crime, prison time and inadvertent prison reform, yet both recent Paddington films have given us a world of high capers and hijinks and have done it with warmth and a depth of character that would otherwise be anathema to a film studio after quick profit from a popular children’s property.
Whilst the Michael Bond books largely focused on Paddington learning about life and things going occasionally awry, the films have capitalised on Paddington Bear as a homely, affable and loveable character, always seeing the best in the world and people around him and, as a result, occasionally being gullible, but always coming out on top in the end. At heart, both Paddington films have been high adventure and a comforting reminder of the importance of compassion and family.
These are two films that appeal to modern day cynicism in a world of superheroes, dark themes and wide-reaching socio-political impact, but it’s a reminder that film should appeal to everyone and the Paddington films are as worthy an introduction to the magic of cinema as they are a reminder that the film world isn’t all melancholy and drama, adolescent humour or heroes in tights. There’s a place for Paddington even in the coldest heart.
It certainly helps that the cast isn’t playing their characters with tongue in cheek self-awareness. The likes of Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins and Julie Walters bring their considerable acting presence to proceedings, whilst Ben Whishaw has the kind of friendly, dream-filled voice that is perfect for Paddington. Add to this cameos from the Peter Capaldi, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Jessica Hynes and many, many more quality familiar faces and it’s already a recipe for success that equals the Harry Potter series for British star power.
Of course, every good guy needs a bad guy and Paddington has had two – the deliciously over the top Nicole Kidman as Millicent Clyde in the first film and a gloriously camp Hugh Grant in what must be a career-defining role as Phoenix Buchanan. It’s in Buchanan that the story truly shines with Grant taking on the role of an actor who has fallen on hard times and is looking for a chance to return to the grand stage.
The films are firmly aimed at the family audience, but do it all so well. The antics of Paddington and the lessons he learns about friends and family will appeal to younger children, whilst the adventure will appeal to those slightly older and there is occasional sarcasm, sly wit and even a touch of innuendo for the grown-ups There’s very little to offend, but plenty to make the viewer chuckle.
Paddington, in all his CGI glory, is a wonderful creation. You quickly forget that he’s not a real character, not just for the quality of the CGI but by the way every actor interacts with him. There’s no “looking the general direction of”; it’s as if he’s really there, a living and breathing bear in a blue jacket and red hat.
Then there are the emotional beats. If you don’t shed a tear as Paddington thinks he’s been abandoned in Paddington 2, there’s something wrong with you. Much is made of Paddington’s belief that the world is a good place only to find it isn’t, but this isn’t the world of East End gangsters and, in the end, Paddington discovers that there are good people out there, you just have to find them… and he does.
So it’s fortunate news that after two films that capture the charm of a much-loved character without attempting to modernise or infantilise the property for cheap laughs or a quick profit, Paddington is set to return for a third film and an animated series for Nickelodeon. Here’s to more sweet adventures from the bear from deepest, darkest Peru.