Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Now that I have a wee little sprog of my own, bouncing around my apartment like a hyperactive midget that talks faster than Quentin Tarantino, I’ve been revisiting characters from my childhood. One of which is Paddington Bear. Now before he became a whore for Marmite, I remember him from the cute little stop motion animation in the 70s and 80s. Fucking adorable he was, with little hint that he was going to betray his love of all things marmalade and sell his soul to the salty yeast god for some easy cash.

After this, came a cartoon. The bear wasn’t as fucking adorable, but it was an excellent show. It quickly became a staple for my little one and I can now sing the theme tune from memory - fucking kill me and fill every orifice with juicy, juicy marmalade.

Of course, the next step had to be a CGI movie and a bastardised big screen version from Hollywood where Paddington moves to New York and calls himself Grand Central and eats hot dogs and becomes a born again Christian and kills his moocher Aunt Lucy for being a drain on the State and shoots and kills an evil Mr Curry when Mr Curry rats him out to INS.

Wait, that didn't actually happen? Britain and France produced a fun, charming, witty little family film of their own? Fuck yeah!

It’s rare to watch a family film that gets almost every little thing right. Paddington is sweet without being sickly, funny without resorting to the lowest common denominator and charming without having to shamelessly play on your emotions. Sure Paddington’s uncle is killed within the first fifteen minutes, but it’s done in an almost alarmingly matter of fact way. No sooner have we been enjoying Paddington live his idyllic life in deepest, darkest Peru, than he’s running through the trees in desperation, trying to escape from an earthquake.

It’s this disaster that kills Paddington’s poor uncle, and which has Paddington set off to London, leaving his aunt Lucy to see out her twilight years in a retirement home for elderly bears.

Paddington is living life under the false assumption that the English are a warm, friendly, welcoming lot. He obviously hasn’t been listening to the UKIP party and hasn’t been paying attention to our current Prime Minister, David Cameron. We don’t much like Johnny Foreigner, what with his weird ways, his strange food and his emotions. If we open our arms to a few foreigners, next thing we know, we’ll all be speaking Polish or praying to Allah.

There’s a neat little undertone of racism running through the film. Paddington’s neighbour Mr Curry immediately dislikes the bear and worries about ‘jungle music’. Spoken like a true disciple of Nigel Farage. At the beginning you have nothing but The Beatles and Stones playing from the street, but if you let just one bear in, next thing you know, it’ll be nothing but jungle music. Mark my words.

The Brown family, who take Paddington in, are wary of him also. Their new guest is uncouth and messy. He also has an Inspector Clouseau-type skill for creating mayhem out of nowhere. In one scene he manages to destroy the Brown’s bathroom, culminating with a flood that propels the bathtub down the stairs. It’s pure slapstick but it works brilliantly. However, after such a huge accident, there seems to be no water damage in the house. What’s that? I’m nitpicking, especially as the films centers on a talking bear? Fine.

But the core of the film is Paddington’s desire to find a home and to fit in somewhere. He’s not treated with much affection at the beginning. He’s locked up in the attic and told that he’s going to be handed over to the authorities in the morning. But this is the English way. We pretend that we don’t like outsiders. We put up all kinds of walls and obstacles. But deep down inside we always want to help someone out and we’re always capable of being won over.

Which is exactly what happens to Henry Brown, the patriarch of the family. Played by Hugh Bonneville, who plays the odious Earl of Grantham in Downton Abbey, he’s a stiff-assed middle class twat who’s mortally afraid of risk. He wants to ship off the bear as soon as possible; let someone else take care of it. But before you know it, he’s helping Paddington out, dressing up as a woman (which is seemingly the secret dream of every Englishman) and even enticing men into illicit rendezvous to get what Paddington wants. Yeah, the promise of casual sex was a turn up for the books in this family film.

Even Mr Curry, played by the cadaverous looking Peter Capaldi, ends up helping the bear. Sure he wants the foreigner to get the hell out of his country, but he’s appalled when he finds out that someone is planning to stuff the poor wee little caniform. This is simply too much. We English might be suspicious of outsiders, but we don’t want them stuffed! Especially cute bears!

The only thing that doesn’t really work is the villain, played by Nicole Kidman. Kidman is obviously having fun and is trying to summon a Cruella de Ville vibe, but she feels a little out of place. Whenever she’s on screen, the movie suddenly becomes something completely different. But she’s not funny or scary enough to warrant the distraction. She’s a plot device, nothing more.

And the plot, it must be said, with Paddington trying to find an explorer who once visited his aunt and uncle in Peru, and Kidman’s crazy taxidermist who wants to stuff him, is a little weak. But the situations that the characters get themselves in, and the general humour and tone of the film, are delightful. There's a great scene where Paddington is taking the Tube and sees a sign that says 'Dogs Must Be Carried' on the escalator. Of course, Paddington takes it literally and ends up finding a pooch so that he can indeed ride the escalator. Cue the adorable sight of Paddington carrying a chihuahua under his arm.

And the CGI of Paddington himself is a huge success. I was very doubtful that they could pull it off, that he would either look too much like a real bear and would look weird or that he would look too cartoonish. But the animation is terrific and Paddington is adorable. It helps hugely that Ben Whishaw was cast - he lends Paddington the right amount of sweetness and innocence. But then again, Kidman aside, all of the casting is spot on. Even Hugh Bonneville is great! Just don't make me watch Downton Abbey again. Fucking ever!

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