We begin in deepest, darkest Peru, where a young bear (Ben Whishaw) lives with his aunt and uncle, dreaming of one day moving to London, to indulge in the wonderment of the English capital city, and track down the explorer who had initially invited the bears along to stay. However following an earthquake, our protagonist makes the trip sooner than imagined, arriving at Paddington station with nothing but a sign around his neck, and a marmalade sandwich kept under his hat in case of emergencies. It is there he meets the Browns, and though Mrs. Brown (Sally Hawkins) offers the bear – now affectionately named Paddington – a place to stay for the night, it comes much to the disapproval of her husband, Mr. Brown (Hugh Bonneville). His reluctance soon turns to protection however, upon learning that the evil-spirited taxidermist Millicent (Nicole Kidman) is desperate to get her hands on this rare breed of animal.
To counteract the socio-political undercurrent that compliments and informs this narrative, is a playful, exuberant tone, as a film that revels in absurdity and surrealism, evidently taking pointers from the likes of Elf, in how we watch on as this character attempts to fit in to a new world. Given the slapstick nature of this eponymous bear, there are also comparisons to be made to the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton in how endearingly clumsy he is. In regards to the comedy, King’s background – directing shows such as The Mighty Boosh and Come Fly With Me, proves to be highly beneficial, particularly in the creation of this overtly fantastical world where this tale is set.
Though all taking place in London, and geographically we remain generally true to life, King is sure to emphasise and heighten the more surrealistic aspects, almost fictionalising the city and turning it in to something of a magical kingdom. Given we’re dealing with a talking bear and are therefore required to suspend our disbelief, King uses his artistic licence to adhere to that notion, embellishing the fantasy with a series of whimsical interludes and creative imagery. As we’re entering in to this world through the eyes of Paddington Bear, the filmmaker romanticises London accordingly, and while usually when films take on the role of a tourist boards and merely show off all of the famous landmarks it can be vexing, in this instance we need to offer this idealistic take on the city, and show it off for all of its vibrancy, to enhance the sentiment that it’s the dream destination for the young bear. Though that being said, King is careful not to over-glamourise the setting either, as we also get a sense for the busy, bustling and cold aspects to London, showing it off to be a place that can be as lonely and scary as it can congenial and alluring.
Needless to say, the performances all help in illuminating this tale too, as the impressive leading cast are joined by the likes of Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi and Julie Walters, who all take up important supporting roles. But the real star of this show is Paddington himself, Ben Whishaw. It’s a hugely empathetic vocal turn that is innocent, inquisitive and beguiling. The role had originally begun to Colin Firth, but in this case the decision to change it up – even at such short notice – proved to be a triumphant one. Sorry Col.