When I first learned to read, books fascinated me. In the small Catholic school I attended for most of my elementary school education, there was a commensurately tiny, one room library. I spent as much time there as I could. There were computers there, the only in the school (I am that old), and I loved playing games on them like Number Munchers and, even better, Oregon Trail. But my first love was the books. I endlessly checked out titles, mainly on history (which I began absorbing from a very young age). I never got into the tales that children typically enjoyed. Hence, I never read the Paddington stories and therefore did not immediately wish to see the 2014 live-action film based on them, even if it did have Hugh Bonneville as Henry Brown. While Paddington can never compare for me to Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) as the head of my beloved Downton Abbey, it is still pretty good in its own right.
Given my unfamiliarity with any of the books on which this movie is based, I was initially confused with the opening of Paddington. It would not be the last, though these are very minor annoyances. I did not expect a newsreel detailing the exploits of Montgomery Clyde (Tim Downie), an explorer who travels to “Darkest Peru.” There he encounters two anthropomorphic bears and gives them many aspects of British culture, namely marmalade, before leaving. Fast forward forty years and you get the title character, though that name has yet to be given to him. The two original bears are his aunt and uncle, and they brought him up on tales of a mythical London, dreaming of traveling there one day themselves. Events are sped up when their home is destroyed, seemingly the result of clear-cutting of the Peruvian rain forrest. His uncle appears to perish, and his aunt feels she is too old to continue, thus he is left to carry on to London on his own. After stowing away on a cross ocean freighter, he eventually makes his way to Paddington station in London where he is found by the Brown family, Henry as its patriarch. Initially, they are split on what to do with this talking bear, a fact at which, bafflingly, nobody bats an eye. Henry and daughter Judy (Madeleine Harris) favor leaving the bear behind as they pass through the rail terminus. It is the son, Jonathan (Samuel Joslin), along with mom Mary (Sally Hawkins), who see the pitiful state the young bear is in, convince Henry to take the talking animal in, and give him the name of Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw). There is one problem with giving Paddington the home for which he is so clearly searching: the bear is dangerously clumsy. On his first night with the Browns, his attempt at cleaning up after his long journey results in the toilet being clogged, the bathroom being flooded, and the tub ending up in the kitchen. This, along with a latent desire for security possibly upset by allowing a bear to stay with them, let alone one as destructive as Paddington, fuels Henry’s mission to find another home for Paddington. The search focuses on finding Montgomery Clyde who had told the bears that they would always be welcomed in London. Their search brings them into contact with Clyde’s embittered daughter, Millicent (Nicole Kidman), who blames the bears for the loss of her father’s fame and fortune. Working at London’s Natural History Museum, her desire is to stuff specimens for display and when she learns of Paddington being in London, she makes it her mission to obtain his hide. Even though Henry had already relented somewhat, it is Paddington’s capture by Millicent that convinces the father to add one more to their family. The Browns manage to free Paddington, and they all apparently live happily ever after.
I have to confess that I increasingly rolled my eyes at the title character’s bungling in Paddington. I had my fill of this so-called “physical humor” with the last three films I have seen. What makes the film a satisfying viewing experience is its heart. This is immediately evident when the Browns bring Paddington into their home, misgivings aside. Indeed, much of the first twenty minutes or so are quite sad, and I found my heart breaking for the still cheerful Paddington who was only seeking a home. What a blessing it is, then, for the Browns to behave as they do. Taking in strangers is a Christian ideal from the very start, and the New Testament is full of tales of the apostles relying on the kindness of the people they evangelize. Still more, Paddington shares his meager food with other beggars. While sitting in the station, and with no other food left to him, he pulls out the emergency marmalade sandwich he keeps in his hat and is immediately confronted by hungry pigeons. Importantly, he sees a kindred spirit in the bird and shares his last bit of food with a fellow starver. In the Bible, Elijah, in the midst of a famine, goes to stay with a widow in Zarephath. The woman is down to her last measures of oil and flour, and plans to die soon along with her son. But by showing kindness to Elijah, God blesses her with jars of oil and flour that last the duration of the difficult times. In Paddington, the bear’s kindness to the pigeons is repaid when, in a true emergency, Paddington flings his sandwich at Millicent and they attack her. Kindness truly does pay.
Aside from being a sweet story, Paddington has some actual funny moments. I cannot emphasize this enough, after my experiences with the previous three films I was pleased to have genuinely laugh in a few scenes. Maybe it was because I had gone so long without real comedy that I laughed early on when you see Clyde’s expedition with a “modest” time piece, trekking through the jungle with a grandfather clock. At any rate, it is the kind of humor, along with the rest of the themes, that make it a palatable film to all audiences. Therefore it receives The Legionnaire‘s recommendation.