When he first shows up at London’s Paddington Station, the smallish orphan bear with the bright red hat is feeling … a little lost, really. He knows he’s been sent here from Darkest Peru to find a loving human family to take him in. The sign his aunt put around his neck says as much. But the reactions from the many Londoners bustling past him aren’t quite what he expected. They hardly even listen long enough for him to politely introduce himself.
Perhaps he isn’t doing it right.
His loving Aunt Lucy—who, by now, is settled comfortably in a home for retired bears—had told him about human ways, you see. She assured him that they would “not have forgotten how to treat a stranger.” After all, the English explorer who long ago met Aunt Lucy and her husband Uncle Pastuzo in the wilds of Peru had happily taken the time to teach them about everything from the joys of human speech to the wonders of marmalade.
Are these people here all so very different?
Finally, a human family does stop long enough to listen to the little bear. Well, actually the kind woman of the family, Mrs. Brown, stops to listen. Her husband, Mr. Brown, doesn’t want to get involved. And their two children, Jonathan and Judy, aren’t all that excited about the delay either.
But the Mrs. can’t bear leaving such a lonely little bear at the station on such a blustery, rainy night. She says they should at least take the talking fur ball—whom she cheerfully dubs Paddington—into their home for the night. Then in the morning they could direct him to the right people.
Mr. Brown, who is an insurance assessor, worries over the ramifications, though. Why, bringing a real bear into your home—even a talking one—increases a family’s risk of damage by some 4,000%, he tells his wife. Mrs. Brown assures him that, again, it will just be for the night. And that’s not such a very long time, is it? What could possibly go wrong?
Paddington silently agrees to come, giving them all a beary grin. After a night of good rest, he can go padding around the city looking for the English explorer in the morning. And with the Browns’ help he’ll be certain to find his way. What could possibly go wrong, indeed?
Well, it seems they’re all about to find out in this cinematic adaptation of Englishman Michael Bond’s series of children’s stories he launched in 1958.
After being orphaned at a young age and raised by his aunt and uncle, Paddington learns to talk human and to appreciate the use of human manners. And the young bear makes an effort to be polite in every situation. He often winds up in the midst of accidental catastrophes, but never from want of trying to do what’s right and proper.
Paddington is also naturally inclined to look for the best in people in spite of their faults. He does so with the Browns and eventually wins them all over to his side. The nanny, Mrs. Bird, tells a reluctant Mr. Brown, “This family needs that wee bear every bit as much as he needs you.” And Mr. Brown eventually comes to agree. He steps forward to defend Paddington, declaring, “We love Paddington. And that makes him family.”
Family is indeed a very important part of this pic. It’s something Paddington is searching for with all his might. We see that when Mr. Brown first becomes a parent, his love for his newborn upends all his attitudes about risk and danger, transforming him into one protective papa. Later though, it’s made clear that risk-taking can be very necessary when a family member is in danger … even a fur-covered family member.
Paddington is startled awake by someone’s voice, and he asks, “Is that you, God?”
To help Paddington look for vital information on the English explorer, Mr. Brown dresses up as a maid. A guard then proceeds to flirt with him. “It’s unusually hot,” Mr. Brown says, embarrassed. “Just like you,” the man replies. Later, several family members tease the straitlaced Mr. Brown about having to disguise himself in a dress. He stutteringly explains that it was “more of a housecoat, really. … It was somewhat liberating.” Meanwhile, Mom seems A-OK with Judy’s crush hanging out in her room.
Though played out as near-slapstick, the film’s sense of peril is certainly one element of the Paddington story that’s been ramped up onscreen. À la 101 Dalmatians’ Cruella De Vil, the London Museum of Natural History’s director of taxidermy, Millicent, is a vivid villain who has a room filled with dozens of animals she’s captured and killed. We feel the threat in her voice as she turns on a squirming animal in a cage. And from the moment we meet her, she declares her desire to find and stuff the talking bear, Paddington. “Why?” a man asks her. “Is he endangered?” “He is now!” she gleefully replies.
After that we see several scenes where she “hunts” the oblivious Paddington, shooting tranquilizer darts at him, etc. She eventually does knock him out and kidnap him, and we watch her walk toward his prone form with a sharp knife in hand (before being interrupted and called away). When Paddington crawls into an unlit furnace and tries to escape through its chimney, Millicent turns on the unit’s flames to stop him. She also suspends a taxi driver upside down to extract information from him.
Accidently creating some of his own blundering danger, Paddington floods the Brown’s home, causes a gas explosion in their kitchen, blows apart a building’s pneumatic message-delivery system, and finds himself suspended 30 feet in the air, held aloft by nothing but an umbrella. Mr. Brown has a pin shoved into his arm when he lies about it being a prosthetic. A huge earthquake tears up the Peruvian landscape, destroying Paddington’s tree house and (offscreen) killing his Uncle Pastuzo.
Millicent speaks of being called “dung-breath.”
While the rest of the family attempts to rescue Paddington from Millicent, Mrs. Bird engages in a drinking game with a museum guard. The two go through an entire bottle and start on another one, both getting drunk. An elderly man drinks a glass of wine.
Paddington and Mr. Brown sneak into the British Explorer’s Guild and break into someone’s computer.
A ship’s horn subs in for the sound of passing gas. Millicent is hit with a load of horse manure. Paddington gets his head lodged in a toilet. Etcetera.
Soon after the movie’s start, our notably disaster-prone furry protagonist shows up on a London railway platform with his aunt’s hand-scratched message hanging around his neck. The note implores any passersby to “Please look after this bear.” It’s exactly the sentiment millions of Paddington Bear fans (spread out around the globe and over more than a half-century) wanted to convey to Hollywood filmmakers upon hearing that a live-action adventure was being made of the classic tale.
And those filmmakers did. Mostly.
Yes, things have been updated quite a bit. There’s more falling-down-the-chimney peril in the going. A manufactured Nicole Kidman villain gets a little threatening with her tranquilizer darts and taxidermy knife. There are just enough toilet humor giggles to make grumpy neighbor Reginald Curry harrumph. And there’s a modern nod to a kind of “liberating” tolerance subtly woven into the subtext (something that can be seen from both sides of the moral mountain, if you will).
But all those tiny tufts, bumps and bits of uneaten marmalade sandwiches don’t quite bumble their way into upending a suitably plush and cuddly pic that gives three cheers to the importance of loving families.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.