If you remember, as I do, many happy childhood hours spent in the company of Michael Bond’s books about Paddington the bear, the new movie “Paddington” may require just a bit of readjustment. The books, starting with 1958’s “A Bear Called Paddington” and continuing through last year’s “Love From Paddington,” tell the adventures of a “young bear gentleman” who arrives on a platform at London’s Paddington Station, having journeyed from his native Darkest Peru (where his only relative, Aunt Lucy, has entered a Home for Retired Bears). Taken in by the Brown family and renamed for the station where they found him, the well-meaning and unfailingly polite Paddington tries hard to fit in but can’t help getting into scrapes, many of which involve his trademark marmalade sandwiches.
“Paddington,” written and directed by Paul King, features all the regular characters and details from the books but plants them in a thoroughly contemporary London in an original story: a caper, involving a villainous taxidermist (Nicole Kidman, prettily a-snarl) and a frantic search for Paddington’s origins. (The title character is a CGI bear, voiced boyishly by Ben Whishaw; the other characters are live-action.) It’s all rather more frenetic than Paddington’s usual adventures, but no worries: Once the story settles in, it’s actually pretty charming. The Browns’ house, complete with a magical tree painted in the stairwell, is the stuff of Anglophile dreams (there’s even a bearish nod to Mary Poppins), and Paddington’s catastrophic mishaps, particularly one involving his very wet first encounter with a London bathroom, should have any kid giggling.
Though the whole Evil Taxidermist thing seems a bit “101 Dalmatians”-ish, “Paddington” feels fresh and lively throughout, with an unexpected poignancy for grown-ups. As readers of the books will recall, Aunt Lucy sent Paddington off to England with a label around his neck: “Please look after this bear.” You think, watching him, of wartime children sent off to safety at railway stations, with labels on their coats, hoping to be met with kindness.
“They will not have forgotten how to treat a stranger,” Aunt Lucy tells Paddington, of the people of his new home. “Paddington” is, ultimately, about how a newcomer can become part of a family, and about how good manners and marmalade can get you out of any tricky situation — delightful messages, at any age.
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Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org