Dave White
Paddington Review

Dave's Rating:

4.0

Every day is Marmalade Day.

Paddington is a lesson in how to ignore marketing strategies.

It arrives here at a strange time, one that would normally be cause for suspicion, over a month after its more appropriate Christmastime release in the U.K., riding the annual garbage-wave that dumps toxic waste like Taken 3 into theaters every January. It also has a godawful trailer, one that packages short bursts of rowdy, slapstick action and sells it as symbolic of the film's whole. That trailer makes it look like Garfield. Actually, that's too kind; that trailer makes it look like Garfield 2. But then, while sitting through Paddington's 89-minute running time, you realize what it really is: warm, witty, charming, and funny.

The little Peruvian bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw) arrives at London's Paddington Station after an earthquake destroys his home, and after his aging aunt Lucy (the voice of Imelda Staunton) places him on a ship bound for England. Seated in front of the station's Lost and Found kiosk, its flickering, half-burned-out sign reading nothing but "Lost," he waits. When the Brown Family (led by Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins) finds the worried cub, reads the note Aunt Lucy has placed around his neck ("Please look after this bear. Thank you.") and takes him home, that kiosk's "Found" light pops back on. At this lovely, heartfelt visual you have permission to begin tearing up. Be warned that it may happen again.

Low-stakes conflicts arise thanks to Paddington's clueless accidents involving everyday tasks. These incidents are the bricks that built that misleading trailer, and, while they are part of the package, they're bursts of brief, silly action in a movie that would rather focus on the growing love between the bear and his adoptive humans. Even the higher-stakes conflict, involving a villainous taxidermist (Nicole Kidman) who's set her mind to capturing and stuffing the little bear, can't compete with the adorable family-building taking place when the Browns and Paddington interact. And if the film had its way completely, it would probably be much more heavily focused on satisfying Paddington's endless hunger for the production and consumption of orange marmalade.

Directed and co-written (along with Hamish McColl) by Paul King (The Mighty Boosh), Paddington is the sort of children's film that's invested in cozy feelings over frantic action or fights with bad people, and it sells its kindness agenda while pushing a visually inviting, Amelie-meets-Wes-Anderson jewel box aesthetic on impressionable eyes. Parents who watch it with their kids will find plenty to love.

But yeah, that trailer. Here's why it exists: because that's what Garfield and The Smurfs were. Because they made big trucks of money. Because a lot of people voted yes to obnoxiousness. And now the studios have decided that that's what you want all the time. And maybe they're right. I would like to think they aren't. But fed-up audiences didn't make that other kids movie about a good-hearted bear, 2011's beautiful Winnie The Pooh, a monster hit, so I'm probably wrong.

Here, then, is a shot at upending the triumph of loudness, if only for a moment. Change only happens when you give good kid films your time and ticket money. So make it happen. You can't stop Smurfs 3 from barging into theaters in the future, but you can savor its sweet opposite right now.

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