This live-action film adaptation has been managed by Harry Potter producer David Heyman. In the directors chair is Paul King, who had previously only made one film with the little-seen Bunny and the Bull (2009) but was almost certainly chosen for the role because of his directing of all the episodes of the cult comedy series The Mighty Boosh (2003-7).
Ever since Babe (1995) gave us the idea of a standard Disney-type talking animals film conducted in live-action, we have seen a number of classic stories featuring animal characters incarnated in live-action with the likes of 101 Dalmatians (1996), Dr Dolittle (1998), Stuart Little (1999), Garfield (2004), Charlottes Web (2006), Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007), Underdog (2007), Yogi Bear (2010), The Jungle Book (2016) and Peter Rabbit (2018). These and other live-action talking animals films such as Racing Stripes (2005), Beverly Hills Chihuahua (2008), G-Force (2009), Hop (2011) and Zookeeper (2011) left one with lowered expectations for Paddington. Most of these reduce the animal characters to an inane series of slapstick antics, contemporary pop culture referents and cynically hip one-liners. Ones prospects for Paddington seemed dim after seeing the trailer, which highlighted the scene with Paddington causing havoc in the bathroom and ick factor gags about using toothbrushes to gouge out earwax. What we seemed in for was less Michael Bonds Paddington Bear than a reprise of the live-action Yogi Bear.
The good news is that this does not turn out to be the case at all and Paddington arrives on screen with considerable charm. The central character is quietly unassuming little more than a child trying to make sense of a big wide world. Where the film wins its charms has something to do with the nonchalant acceptance of a talking bear by people as the central character and where nobody seems to find this at all peculiar. One of the things I did like about the film is that it retains the essential Englishness of the originals without watering it down for American audiences. The world that Paddington inhabits is quintessentially an English one, filled with elevenses, breakfast marmalade, visits to Portobello Road antique stores, black cabs, beefeaters outside Buckingham Palace, bobbies and cups of tea to calm all ills. It is, you suspect, more a hyper-real fantasy of Britishness that was common to the 1960s period of the original stories than today ie. a father who is an insurance broker living in London being able to afford a live-in housekeeper and a home in upper-market Primrose Hill but strikes an instantly recognisable chord. The film remains extremely faithful to the details of the original stories about the only major addition is the character of Nicole Kidmans one-dimensional villainess who seems to be there to give the story some kind of dramatic foil and which she has a field day playing.
Paddington has a number of slapstick sequences the one with Paddington causing chaos in the bathroom (which is actually a sequence taken from Michael Bonds first Paddington book), apprehending a pickpocket, becoming caught up in scotch tape as Nicole Kidman attempts to break in to the house. The silliest of these is surely the image of Hugh Bonneville in drag conducting a break-in to the library of the Natural History Museum, ending in Paddingtons sandwich blowing up the entire building. You could compare these sequences to the ones from almost any of the abovementioned live-action talking animals film, which are almost all agonising and unfunny in their loud and overblown slapstick. Paddington does this too, which gives me cause to wonder why it endears and they do the exact opposite. The reason I think has to do with the fact that Paddington respects its material and its audience; these other films seem driven more by a frenetic need to ingratiate themselves with child audiences to the extent that they write the material down to a moronic low and seem to assume loud chaos, cynical one-liners and pop culture nods are what every member of the audiences has come there to see. This does it with charm.
Paddington 2 (2017) was a sequel reuniting most of the talents here.