Review: “Paddington” Fails To Rise Above Simply Being A Kids Movie
Director: Paul King
Screenwriter: Paul King (written by), Hamish McColl (screen story), Paul King (screen story), and Michael Bond (character “Paddington Bear”)
Principal Cast: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Madeleine Harris, Samuel Joslin, Nicole Kidman, and Peter Capaldi
I’ve spent the better part of a week in a strange state of mind. My parents are moving so we’ve been going through all of the old toys that belonged to me and my brother so I’ve had childhood on my mind. When I got a notice that a very last minute screening for Paddington had come up, I decided that it could be okay. There have been some great kids movies in the last few months and another that completely surprised me. I don’t judge kids movies to be inferior, I’m very much a kid at heart, so while I wasn’t looking forward to Paddington I kept an open mind that it could be good.
Paddington suffers from whiplash inducing changes in tones that will likely go over the heads of its young audience, while anyone above the age of ten will be quite bored.
Our story follows a rare species of bears from Peru that are found by an explorer just after World War II. The explorer discovers that the bears seem to have very high intelligence. He decides to leave them alone, but not before teaching the bears about England. Years later the two bears have a young cub (voice Ben Whishaw). The young bear’s Uncle Pastuzo (voice Michael Gambon), and Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) remember the explorer and still want to travel to England despite that they are getting older. When tragedy strikes the bear cub must go to England alone where he meets the Browns (Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Madeleine Harris, and Samuel Joslin) who name him Paddington and who take him in until he can find a new home. The Brown’s aren’t the only ones who have noticed Paddington’s arrival in England; taxidermist Millicent (Nicole Kidman), from the Natural History Museum, is lurking in the shadows to add Paddington to her collection.
There are two different places that my mind kept wandering to as I watched Paddington. The first was wondering if this what some parents felt like as they watched 101 Dalmatians back in the early 90’s. Paddington isn’t nearly as good as 101 Dalmatians, but they both have the same tonal problem. As a child I loved 101 Dalmatians, it was one of my favorite movies, but going back and watching it now I completely missed the concept of a woman skinning puppies to make a fur coat out of them and how disturbing that is. Paddington has the same problem as Millicent walks around in what seems like a completely different movie and talks about killing Paddington to stuff him and put him on display. These are the types of things that go over the heads of children but, as an adult, it made the movie feel very schizophrenic as far as tone. One minute Paddington is wandering around London getting into amusing trouble and the next Millicent is nearly torturing a cab driver for information on Paddington. It felt like I was watching two different movies.
That is why I consider Paddington to be a true kids movies. I believe that movies are separated into three main categories; movies for adults, movies for the entire family, and movies for kids. The difference between the latter two is that family movies are just as entertaining for adults as they are for kids, while kids movies really only appeal to kids. I didn’t enjoy Paddington but the few kids that were in the theater seemed to enjoy it. This is one of those movies where I almost wish I had kids so I could turn and ask them if they liked Paddington because I couldn’t be further from the target audience. As I said the tone switches will go unnoticed by children, but I couldn’t find much for any adults to hang anything onto as well. I didn’t think the jokes were funny, and the writing was subpar at best.
The actors are mostly phoning it in for an easy paycheck. The Brown’s are a likable enough family, but they seem far too well adjusted about the talking bear that has appeared out of nowhere. The family has a nice dynamic that feels fairly natural, and I did like the way that Mr. Brown (Hugh Bonneville) and Mrs. Brown (Sally Hawkins) aren’t the typical parents you would expect in this situation. The only real tropes they fall into is that he wants Paddington out, while she is much more inclined to help. Kidman doesn’t have to work very hard as our villain, and her motivation, while it makes sense logical, seems to completely miss the point. She stomps around like some sort of combination of femme fatale and scheming villain. Whishaw gives Paddington a nice, smooth voice, but it confused me as to how old Paddington is supposed to be.
The second place my mind kept wandering to is that Peter Capaldi has a minor role and he is currently playing The Doctor on Doctor Who. So whenever he was on screen I would amuse myself by coming up with scenarios of The Doctor following the bear alien around London to make sure he doesn’t cause any trouble. I have a feeling that this was a personal thing, but it does say how uninteresting I found everything else.
The special effects for Paddington, which is something that should have been a priority considering the movie, aren’t impressive and look about a decade out of date. I understand that not everything is going to look like Gollum from Lord of the Rings, but the differences between Paddington and even Guardians of the Galaxy are very noticeable. I also understand that Paddington doesn’t have a Marvel/Disney budget, but that doesn’t keep the movie from looking like it was made a decade ago. It was shot as if they thought about making it in 3D and then changed their minds at the last minute,which is good, because it would have made the iffy graphics look even worse.
Paddington is a quintessential January release; forgettable, poorly made, and very dull. While it isn’t insulting to the adults in the theater, if you have kids there are better things to see.