Saturday, 13 December 2014

Paddington (2014) - Movie Review

When one of the most prominent trailers for your film contains your main character licking earwax from a toothbrush, we can be forgiven for assuming the worst. Add to that that we’re dealing with a film aimed primarily at kids and we’re dealing with a high probability of running from the theatre wanting to burn everything. I have never read any of the original books, and only have marginal knowledge about the character itself; this means that I only had the very disheartening trailer to go on. This is the kind of recipe that results in clouds of thick black smoke, melted lab equipment and possibly the need for several HAZMAT suits. What does this cook up in practice? Let’s dig in and find out: This is Paddington.

The plot: After an earthquake destroys his home in Peru, Paddington (Ben Whishaw) travels to London in search of a new home. He comes across Mr. Brown (Hugh Bonneville) and his family, who reluctantly lets them take Paddington in until he finds a proper home. Paddington has to find a home, all the while avoiding Millicent (Nicole Kidman), an insane taxidermist who wants to stuff and mount him in an exhibition at the Natural History Museum.

Director/co-writer Paul King has an… interesting filmography: On one hand, he’s worked on cult British comedies like The Mighty Boosh and Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace; on the other hand, he also directed the television equivalent of exsanguination that is Come Fly With Me. This film, initially, feels like it would be outside of his rather darker comfort zone, but it doesn’t take long for this film to prove that assumption wrong. The humour here is very evenly balanced for both age groups, like a true family film should be, and it largely succeeds with its jokes. Sure, there are a few groaners like a brief foray into drag comedy (Something that is only done right about 0.001% of the time) and the aforementioned earwax scene which, after seeing it so many times in the trailer, I just flat out didn’t look at when it was on-screen, but those aren’t enough to detract too much from the jokes that work. I hate to sound elitist when it comes to what I personally find funny (oh, why stop now?), but I have a great affinity for that pronounced British sense of humour and this film is riddled with it. Perhaps a little too much, as some of the smaller jokes are bits of wordplay on British slang that isn’t really used anywhere else.

Even removed from the comedic side of things, this is pretty well-written in terms of dialogue and plot. While we do get some typical hallmarks of the fish-out-of-water story, like the characters who irrationally don’t like the main character and the third act “They don’t want me here anymore” cliché, but I can at least say that this film handles them well for the most part. The initial disdain is brief and the transition from that to friendship is a lot smoother than I’ve seen in other films. As for the third act cliché… yeah, that’s probably the biggest strike against this film: For the rest of the running time, it seems to be poking fun at its own story quirks, as well as some of its cheesier moments, but then that plot point comes in and the heart sinks just a bit.

Thankfully, it picks right back up again without much delay, so at least isn’t as big a problem as it could have been. The plot is a lot more focused than one would expect, too: There’s never a point in the film where it feels like the writers are dragging their feet to fill up the running time. Not only that, there is proper thought put into some rather crucial plot elements, such as the villain’s motives and the reasons for why Paddington goes to London; put simply, a bear that can talk English walking around London and not constantly having phone cameras pointed at him is the furthest your disbelief will be suspended. It may seem extremely cynical to put special mention to the writers of a family film doing their friggin’ jobs and actually writing a good script, but after Planes: Fire And Rescue, I have learnt to appreciate such things even more.

The cast all do a spectacular job with their respective roles. Ben Whishaw and Hugh Bonneville, whose respective careers have made tremendous leaps and bounds into the Hollywood mainstream in the last few years, play very well against each other as the sugar and salt at the core of the film; Peter Capaldi, despite his relatively smaller role, has some fun with his role and makes for some good comedy with his interactions with Millicent and Mr. Brown; Julie Walters pretty much steals every scene she’s in; Jim Broadbent, despite his distracting attempt at a German (I think?) accent, does well with his largely expository role; and Matt Lucas has a bordering-on-cameo role that is actually enjoyable to watch and not grating as per his Little Britain caricatures. Nicole Kidman shows a definite improvement from her performance in Before I Go To Sleep, but I would have to say that she is the weak link in the cast list. Sure, she does well as the crazy villain, but it definitely feels like there is something missing from it. Then again, the last time we got Kidman as the villain in a family film was in The Golden Compass and the less said about that the better.

All in all, this is the perfect kind of movie to see during the holiday season, whether you go with your kids or just go on your own. It’s tailor-made to give the audience that warm fuzzy feeling that only good family films can manage, and it pulls it off rather well with good comedy, a great cast list and a lively Calypso soundtrack. I admittedly went into this expecting it to be boring at best and, if I didn’t have to see it for a review, I would have just ignored; please don’t make that mistake and check it out for yourself.

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