Paddington is so sickeningly sweet that it could give you diabetes. There isn’t a moment in this film that is allowed to be cynical. If it was, the filmmakers would probably give it a long, hard stare for being rude. Maybe that’s what happened in the writing process. The screenplay was co-written by Hamish McColl and Paul King (who also directed), and I like to imagine if one of them wrote a scene that wasn’t just the sweetest thing, then the other would stare at them until it was changed. This is not a criticism.
The film is led by a character popular in children’s books for many decades now, Paddington Bear (voice of Ben Whishaw). After an earthquake destroys his home, he’s sent by his Aunt Lucy to London. He is a bear who speaks English because an explorer once visited his home and taught his aunt and uncle the language and some human customs. He’s very smart, very polite, and very clumsy. Things tend to go wrong when he’s left to his own devices, even though he never intends for anything to happen that way.
He comes to London looking for a home and finds himself being brought home by the Brown family. The parents are Henry (Hugh Bonneville) and Mary (Sally Hawkins), while the children are Judy (Madeleine Harris) and Jonathan (Samuel Joslin). Mrs. Bird (Julie Walters) also lives with them. The plan is for the Brown family to find Paddington a real home. He’s looking for the explorer who visited Peru 40 years earlier. But there’s a villain afoot in the form of a taxidermist (Nicole Kidman) who needs Paddington to complete her collection.
There are a couple of prolonged action scenes, but this is mostly a family-friendly comedy in which most of the humor comes from Paddington attempting to do “human” things and failing completely. It’s slapstick and physical comedy, because that appeals to children. This is a children’s movie, first and foremost. This does not mean that there aren’t clever jokes thrown in that are intended for adults, because those are most certainly there, too. Paddington really is for all audiences.
This is also a film that has the ability to melt your heart. Paddington has been created with wonderful CGI, and is voiced perfectly by Ben Whishaw, and he will endear himself to you before he even leaves his forest. The film does not do a disservice to the children’s book character, and will likely make sales of the books pick up, particularly in markets that traditionally didn’t sell a whole lot of Paddington-led merchandise. The movie is so charming and lovable that it’s almost impossible to dislike.
With that said, it’s also a little too simplistic, a little too predictable, its villain is a little too cartoonish, and some of the comedy is not exactly the funniest. I mean, these are problems that are easy to overlook — and you likely will, since the movie is just so much overall fun — but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there, and they can, at times, get in the way of the enjoyment one might get. The film is lots of fun in the moment, but looking at it afterwards, it’s a bit too basic and likely won’t play as well on a second viewing.
Ben Whishaw voices our leading bear, and he does so with such enthusiasm and innocence that you can’t help but want to give Paddington a hug. Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins are strong as parents who often disagree on Paddington’s status within their family. Children in movies are often terrible, but Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin are both perfectly fine. Nicole Kidman is serviceable as the villain.
Paddington is so cute, so charming, and so lovable that it’s so incredibly easy to overlook its flaws. That’s ultimately what matters, isn’t it? While you watch it, you’re sucked in, you’re laughing, and you’re having a good time. Outside of a couple of predictable moments, its simplicity doesn’t hit you until well after it’s over. Sure, Paddington is a little too basic, but it’s a children’s movie. It’ll make them laugh, it’ll make the adults laugh, and it’ll sell a whole lot of stuffed Paddington bears and Paddington-led books. It does its job and it’s a lot of fun for all of its 90+ minutes.