The Paddington movie, out in the US tomorrow, came out in the UK at the end of the November, and I managed to find time to take the kids. I was expecting a fun movie, instead I got the kind of film which is going to live inside all our hearts and when you see it years from now on the TV schedules, you'll have to sit down and watch it properly to the end out of pure respect.
You may have read the Paddington Bear books by Michael Bond. You may have seen his wonderfully stop-motion animated BBC TV series. You hopefully avoided the late eighties and nineties versions. But this movie is something else and does several things really, really well, even if my initial impression was not a good one.
Because it starts with an origin. How an adventurer found these walking talking bears in Darkest Peru and befriended them, how they absorbed his culture and raised Paddington in it, and how they had false ideas of what London and civilised man actually was, and how Paddington was not best served by that knowledge – but how it also gave him the most wonderful optimism and belief of what mankind could be.
The books, the TV series, they never needed this. We got mentions of Paddington being orphaned in an earthquake as the books continued, but never so much to give an actual origin story. Paddington was just there, on the train station platform, waiting to be found and that was enough. I thought it should be enough now, The books didn;t need an origin, I didn't think I needed it either. But it added a thoroughly-throught-through world to the existing world that I was happy to embrace. It smacked of Pixar's Up, but managed to create something brand new.
Director David Heyman presents us with a wonderful anachronism. Ostensibly set in the modern day, what with the internet and everything, it also shows architecture, vehicles, clothing and attitudes of London spread through the last sixty years. This is not a London that exists, but an amalgamation of the Londons that have existed, in truth and in imagination, not dissimilar to Richard Curtis' Love Actually and Notting Hill, but richly portrayed in a manner closer to Terry Gilliam. Because, while the London it shows is a chocolate box of delights, it is also one of homelessness, of crime, of small mean people living small mean lives and betraying the glorious city they have the fortune to live in.
Which also gave my youngest child the biggest fright of her limited cinematic life. Peter Capaldi as one of those mean, nasty, small-minded people. A bad guy. And that shook her, cuddling me and, initially, asking to go home. That soon changed but it does emphasis the impact that the new Doctor has made on young minds as The Good Man. And for my older daughter, emphasised her appreciation for "the actor".
And there are plenty of familiar faces, though mostly for a British audience, three from Horrible Histories have roles, folk from All At Sea turn up, Matt Lucas plays a wonderfully loquacious Cokk-er-ney cab driver, as well as the now-internationally renowned Hugh Bonneville and the much loved Julie Walters. Add a few faces from the Office, Peep Show and the wonderful Jim Broadbent, everyone gets a chance to chew the scenery marvellously.
He was in Brazil as well, wasn't he.
And because no one is taking anything seriously, there's a chance to be very serious indeed. This is a film that espouses tolerance and find allegories for immigration and racism in response to the arrival of Paddington – Capaldi's character warning about "jungle music" possibly being the most pointed, Broadbent's discussion of his own arrival in London, the most poignant. It looks at what happens when you dehumanise people just because they are different or come from somewhere else. And happen to be bears. That spirit was always present in the books, it's just spotlighted to a greater degree here, and no bad thing.
Nicole Kidman totally reprises her role in The Golden Compass here, in fact you'd be hard pressed to tell these women, intent on causing harm of the most dehumanizing kind – and the kind of bad guy my youngest was happy to hate and wish the imminent demise of. And the means of said dismissal was surprising, rioteous and a cause of much cheer.
There are some wonderful scenes of cinematography. How the Brown's London house reflects Paddington's own in Darkest Peru with a tree painted on the walls and stairs that circle up the town house, and that change their season to reflect the mood in the house, the tree motif continuing into the main bedroom. The small hallway filled with photos, windows into different worlds, showing places visited or planned to visit. Then there's the doll's house in the attic, from in which you can see the whole house and check out what people in different rooms are getting up to. The street addresses scrawled down that appear in the sky, crossed off along a journey. The journey of another refugee as a young boy, hidden in the smoke of a toy train, repeatedly inventive, enchanting and magical.
When Paddington Bear was first published, the post war era was still very present, kids leaving the city for the country, the image of them standing on train stations with name tags on them didn't need to be referenced. Here that needs to be set up, we get the journey from earthquake-torn darkest Peru to London, the abandonment, the fear and the final kindness of a stranger, the light in the darkness, that lights up Paddington Bear and justifies his uncle and aunt's faith in the country that was once described to them by an idealistic anthropologist. The image of refugees recalled by Julie Walters' Mrs Brown (no longer the house maid, now an elderly relative – a victim of the class war) to Jim Broadbent's Mr Gruber as he always was, a refugee from Hiterl's Germany, couldn't make the message any clearer.
There are other parallels to be drawn, the success of the innocence abroad who stumbles into success of Being There or Forrest Gump.
There are so many terrible CGI animal movies generated to breath new money into tired IPs. This should have been one of them, like Chipmunks and Garfield. Paddington didn't have to be as good as it is, it would have made its money back by being terrible. That it ended up, in the last few weeks, as being my favourite film I saw last year is a real Christmas miracle.
Okay, maybe a tie with Frank. But for oddly similar reasons. And for those who find the idea of running into a Matt Lucas taxi driver preposterous, on the way to the cinema I almost walked into his replacement on TV show Shooting Stars, Daniel Renton Skinner (better known as Angelos Epithemiou), walking into the cinema with his kids to see the same film…
It really is a wonderful city.
Paddington is released on 16th January 2015 in the USA.