“Paddington” firmly establishes itself as farcical but not nonsensical, lighthearted but not ebullient, and coated with sugary danger that is suspenseful but never over-sweet. It surpasses even Pixar’s exalted storytelling standards, the rare cinematic gem that can be appreciated and beloved by audiences of all ages and attitudes.
Just like its perennially perfect sequel, “Paddington” makes us aware of its hairy excellence in the first five minutes. We watch grainy, black-and-white footage of an acclaimed explorer Montgomery Clyde trudging through the muck and fumes of the unforgiving Peruvian jungle. There, Clyde stumbles into a previously unknown species of bear that’s highly intelligent, sensitive and nurturing, and also able to fluently speak English. Clyde names the bears Lucy and Pastuzo and extends them a longstanding invitation to meet the friendly faces in London some day.
Decades later, Lucy and Pastuzo have not left their cozy Peruvian homestead, and have added the curious, ever-friendly Paddington (Ben Whishaw) to their family ranks. But tragedy strikes their quaint forest home, killing Pastuzo and moving Lucy to send her trailblazing nephew off to London in search of tranquility. Paddington is reluctantly given temporary quarters by the Brown family, with the bear’s inexperience using modern appliances or even simple tape dispensers turning their quaint, roundabout home into a ramshackled mess. Through the hubbub, a malevolent animal collector named Millicent becomes aware of Paddington’s existence, concocting a slew of schemes to kidnap the own bear for her personal use.
It’s a standard script that excels because it literally adapts its storybook origins to the screen. A cozy narrator regularly spells out quirky details for audiences as if we were children, listening to him read this “Paddington” book from his withered rocking chair. Each member of the Brown family is identified by some explicit longing desire and a personal sense of loss or shame: Jonathan Brown wants to voyage to outer space but his parents won’t let him play with rocket toys, Judy wants to be with her loving boyfriend but is embarrassed to introduce the lad to her parents, and parents Henry and Mary struggle to fulfill their nuclear family roles, considering the hot bombs they used to be before the kids were born.
As you can guess, Paddington, in some way or fashion, helps the family members discover themselves, defeats the brutish Millicent, and becomes a respectable, marmalade-guzzling member of the London community. We asked for nothing less, and writer and director Paul King delivered exactly on that promise. Every shot looks like a hand-painted storybook masterpiece, brimming with color and bursting with action. And frame place evokes a Wes Anderson vibe but in a more cunning way, a dollhouse that isn’t meant to keep audiences out but welcome them in. It’s the kind of movie that circles our cinematic jungle every couple years or so, a gem that will always be underappreciated save for the audiences who were lucky enough to click play.