Sometimes, a girl just needs a happy ending.
“Paddington” wasn’t a film I intended to review, to be perfectly honest. It’s received great reviews, and it looked cute enough, but it always seemed to be the type of movie I might watch on cable sometime if I happened to catch it while flipping through channels.
But sometimes, when the world is harsh and the days are cold, you just need a little bit of fluff. And what’s fluffier than an adorable bear in a red hat?
After an earthquake devastates the tiny bear’s home and family in Peru, he travels to London, a city an explorer from long ago promised would provide a warm welcome. But London isn’t welcoming, and its cold, rainy days definitely don’t offer warmth.
Luckily, the Brown family stumbles upon the little bear and decide to temporarily take him home. Mary, the matriarch of the family, christens him with the name “Paddington.”
Although Mary (Sally Hawkins) is a free spirit and quite welcoming, her husband, Henry, is not. Henry (Hugh Bonneville) is stuffy and stodgy — the latter of which is a word that doesn’t get used nearly enough. The two Brown children are pretty standard: teenage Judy (Madeleine Harris) is moody and embarrassed by her family’s mere existence while her younger brother Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) is a lonely boy desperately seeking a relationship with his father.
As you can imagine, the family’s ordinary life is thrown into chaos with Paddington’s arrival. Toothbrushes are used to clean ears, a bathroom is flooded and ordinary tape becomes something from which even Harry Houdini couldn’t escape.
There is also a ridiculous subplot with Nicole Kidman as a psychotic taxidermist bent on adding Paddington to her collection. Her hair is platinum and her stilettos are lethal. Her story is pretty silly, but she’s Nicole Kidman. She can pull off anything.
Luckily, the plot isn’t where this film’s charm lies. It’s not in Paddington’s adventures or Kidman’s villainy either.
In short, “Paddington” does almost everything right. The bear’s interactions with those around him are utterly delightful to watch. The cinematography is beautifully done. But more importantly, the film makes us feel good.
Watching Paddington’s antics can make even the gruffest person at least crack a smile. And the cast plays their parts almost flawlessly. The story and characterizations are over the top, but they’re supposed to be.
I have to give special nods to the always delightful Julie Walters and Peter Capaldi. Their roles are small but entertaining. “Harry Potter” alum Walters is joined by former castmates Imelda Staunton and Michael Gambon, who lend their voices to Paddington’s aunt and uncle.
Plus, I absolutely loved seeing Bonneville — perhaps best known as Lord Grantham on “Downton Abbey” — come out of his shell. Bonneville plays Henry Brown pretty closely to his characterization of the Earl of Grantham. Both are uptight and opinionated. Until we see Henry with a handlebar mustache and a motorcycle. Oh, and then there’s the scene where he’s in drag. No, I’m not kidding. It was priceless, and I’m scarred for life.
It’s simply a pleasure to watch as Henry and his family realize they need Paddington in their lives as much as he needs them.
As you can see here, “Paddington” isn’t full of surprises. We know he won’t be stuffed, and we know Henry Brown will loosen his collar and open his heart. We know the family will be changed for the better.
That’s not why we go to these types of movies. We go for the formula, the predictability. We want comfort in terms of form and finished product. We also want it to be executed to a high degree. Luckily, audiences are allowed to go along for this ride.