I'd heard a lot of good things about Paddington, but I still hadn't expected to be quite this utterly charmed by a modern film. Wholesome is an understatement! Yes, you have to get over some of the weirder elements of the plot. Why are there talking bears in South America? Why isn't that a more remarkable and well-known discovery (okay, that's addressed a little and it's a good gag, but still)? Why does no one in the UK freak out even a little about a talking bear walking around wearing a hat and carrying a suitcase? Why would the main villain actually grow up despising animals because her father left academia when she was still in primary school and opened their own petting zoo?
You also just have to accept that this film is strangely anti-intellectual. Between the depiction of the Geographer's Guild as bloodthirsty imperialists and the beloved National History Museum as the lair of a deranged animal abuser, it does come on a bit strong. Then again, I guess the youngest son (George?) is a serial inventor, so rogue intellectualism is championed. Hmm, not the greatest moral threads...
But if you just suspend disbelief and allow Paddington these elements of world-building (and some rather peculiar notions of physics) the story underneath is wonderfully heartwarming, enjoyable, and sweet. The actors involved are all clearly having a huge amount of fun, and everyone from Hugh Bonneville to Julie Walters to Peter Capaldi to Nicole Kidman are just excellent (not to mention Matt Lucas, Jim Broadbent, Imelda Staunton, Sally Hawkins, Michael Gambon, and even Super Hans himself, Matt King – this film has a ridiculous cast!).
And then, of course, there is Paddington himself. Brilliantly voiced by Ben Whishaw and flawlessly animated, he has to be one of the most impressive CG characters I've seen since Gollum. He's interacting entirely with physical locations, real people, and actual objects and I never once broke immersion. Yes, it's cartoony and a bit ridiculous (and slapstick) at times, but the combination of animation work and scripting meant that I utterly believed in this character. There's a moment when Paddington is tranquilised and falls down the iconic central staircase in the NH, only to come to a rest with rump prominently in the air and tongue slightly out. It's cartoonishly comic and a bit ridiculous, but my reaction was genuinely to wonder how many takes it took to get the gag before realising that, of course, the whole thing was animated 🤦♂️ As I say, impressive stuff.
Talking about the script, the story isn't about to win any awards. It's very much a rehash of Mary Poppins: a slightly magical person gets caught up in the lives of a family living in a slightly whimsical house and, through a sequence of whacky escapades, helps them reconnect with one another and see the joy in life. Kids learn about parents, parents remember that kids should have some fun, Dad realises his day job is boring, adventures all around. Even the surly neighbour learns a thing or two along the way, although admittedly there wasn't any murder in Mary Poppins, unlike Paddington 😂.
But that doesn't stop it being entertaining and at least a little original. Nor does it stop the film having a huge amount of fun in the world-building, from the bear's home in Darkest Peru, to the toy train with cake compartment, to the wonderful pipe system in the Geographer's Guild. Paddington still merrily carries you along, presenting a message of friendship and community that will never be inappropriate. Indeed, the film does a lot to subtly highlight how far "Britishness" has slid. We have a terrible history checkered with awful deeds and imperialism, but there's a lot to be proud of in there as well. Here's a kids movie that tries to gently remind the public that those ideals are being actively eroded, but they don't need to be relegated to dusty tomes just yet. And that's a message I can definitely get behind, marmalade and all.