There has been a fair amount of coverage in the press this week past over the rating that Paddington was given. Paddington is a PG, which has had a few people scratching their heads. Darkest Peru’s most famous export is also famous for being one of the most gentle children’s favourites of the past 50 years. His scrapes with his adopted family, the Browns, his run ins with their irascible neighbour Mr Curry and his friendship with Mr Gruber certainly don’t lend themselves to such a high rating, so there was a degree of consternation all round when we were invited to a preview screening yesterday- would the magic of Paddington still remain?
The answer is a qualified yes. All the things that instrincally make Paddington are still there. He’s wonderfully well mannered, very well meaning and about as clumsy as a little bear from darkest Peru could be. In order to inject some cinematic “excitement”, the film makers have decided it necessary to introduce some mild peril in the form of a cartoon baddie played by Nicole Kidman. She plays a taxidermist who, for reasons that become apparent later in the film, is obsessed with obtaining Paddington and stuffing him. In this sense the plot is as much 101 Dalmations as it is Paddington, and Kidman’s part is no less over the top than Cruella D’Villes too.
Fortunately this doesn’t spoil the film- Paddington is still Paddington and if you’ve seen the trailer that features the bathroom sequence (a trailer than sadly continues the trend of showing all the best bits of the film in the trailer), there is plenty more like that. There are a few changes that time and circumstance, or the plot necessitate- Mrs Bird is no longer the housekeeper but an elderly relative who lives with Mr and Mrs Bird and Uncle Pastuzo is somewhat prematurely killed off compared to the books.
The plot itself is pretty simple; Paddington comes to the UK after an earthquake in darkest Peru, the Browns take him in while he looks for the explorer that invited his Aunt Lucy and Uncle Pastuzo to visit, Nicole Kidman tries to stuff him and some high jinks occur. It’s simple enough that even the littlest of Paddington fans can follow the story but, like all good films, has plenty going on to keep the grown ups equally amused.
The casting is pretty much spot on, Hugh Bonneville’s portrayal of Mr Brown is both funny and full of warmth. Unusually for a kids film, the parents are properly released characters with identifiable motivation for what they’re doing. But of course the real star of the show is Paddington. He is wonderfully realised as a full CGI bear that interacts with his environment perfectly. How well? Consider this: there is a scene where Nicole Kidman lowers herself down into the Browns house on a winch to try and abduct Paddington. It’s a riff on a scene from her ex-husband Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible films (complete with the music) and I found myself shaking my head thinking, “Ridiculous”, completely ignoring the fact she was actually chasing an anthropomorphised bear in a duffle coat. He’s wonderful and I genuinely don’t think he could have been done any better at all. There is also a more subtle use of CGI that’s very clever too- the Browns have a mural in their stairwell of a tree and the state of it’s leaves alters to reflect the situation- when there’s turmoil the leaves blow off the tree, when everyone is happy, the leaves and flowers are blossoming. It’s a wonderful touch that sums up the attention to detail nicely.
There are technically a couple of deaths but both are implied rather than directly witnessed. Uncle Pastuzo is flattened by a tree during an earthquake and Matt Lucas’s taxi driver is dropped into the Thames bound hand and feet. The first might upset the more tender little ones, the second would require a lot more thought to work through. A large part of the PG rating is down to a frankly hilarious scene where Mr Bond (cross) dresses up as a cleaner to infiltrate the Geographers Guild and ends up having to flirt with the security guard. Bonneville is in his element here and, Paddington aside, he is the best thing in the film in my opinion. To put it in context though, a PG is the same rating as Frozen, which is hardly a terrifying movie but Lego Movie was a U (as was Despicable Me 2), both of which contain a lot more action, so who knows? We certainly had no issue with letting Ned (3 in January) watch Paddington and having seen the film, I feel in no way irresponsible for doing so.
I have to say for me one of the highlights was the costume, Mrs Brown’s outfits were perfectly realised and I was completely in awe of her magnificent sense of style. Nicole Kidman’s outfits would leave any fashionista green with envy and helped her realise the character she was playing perfectly. Lindy Hemming, Oscar winning costume designer worked on the film and looking up her biography she has worked on some of my favourite films. Maybe I just like her style, but for me the costumes added a lot to the film and helped to realise the characters beyond the script.
In conclusion then, Paddington is a great kids film. It suffers for the emphasised need for dramatic threat that the translation to the big screen entails but it is difficult to see how it could have been done much differently.
Paddington is a PG certificate and is on general release from 28 November.