The announcement of this revitalisation of a national institution was met with trepidation, excitement, pessimism and hope in equal measure around the country, and that nervous attitude continued all the way through the Colin Firth saga and his ‘conscious uncoupling’ from the film after principal photography had already wrapped. Ben Whishaw, of Q fame in the Bond film ‘Skyfall’, signed on to the role and all that remained to be seen was whether the whole debacle had eventually led to a good resolution for all parties or whether it was going to mean the downfall of the whole project, since the voice of Paddington being such an iconic part of him.
Luckily, Ben Whishaw’s voice is perfect, and matches Paddington’s sensibilities so well that it feels like a lucky escape that we avoided Colin Firth in the role, which feels like a strange thing to say when such an esteemed actor leaves a film. He embodies that sense of someone coming to master the British-isms required to get by in England, right down to the variety of ways Paddington is able to exclaim about how hard it’s raining in a way that feels sincere enough to be genuinely funny, which is a hard task. He’s ably aided by the strong animation on Paddington himself who doesn’t slip in to uncanny valley at all, something that is very easy to do, and also by a very strong support cast featuring the likes of Hugh Bonneville, who plays Mr Brown and epitomises the stereotype of the uptight Englishman in such a way as to play with the concept rather than conform to it blindly, which is always welcome. Sally Hawkins also puts in a very strong performance as Mrs Brown, cementing her place as one of the best British actresses around and working brilliantly with Julie Walters to make the Bird family an engaging and interesting group, allowing the two child actors Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin to express themselves fully in the knowledge that they’re supported by very good actors. Other memorable turns come from the likes of Nicole Kidman and Peter Capaldi, who both enthusiastically chew scenery in a way that suits the tone of the film perfectly.
After all that praise for performance levels, it seems a shame to say that despite the fact it’s well made and entertainingly diverting for an hour and a half, ‘Paddington’ doesn’t rise to the level of something special, instead seeming content with being an unremarkable heartwarmer with flashes of something more substantial. It’s true that perhaps the target audience of children or perhaps long term fans of the character will get more out of the film than I did, but it has to work on a higher level than that to be anything more than just pleasant. ‘Paddington’ is a charming, funny and engaging film that fails to quite reach the level of poignancy or really examine its bigger themes of family and acceptance as it would like to, but is probably going to please the old fans and captivate quite a few young viewers along the way regardless. It’s just a shame it isn’t that little bit better.
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