January 20, 2015
Family Film Blogging: Paddington
Posted by Christine Hurt

Apparently, people love Paddington, especially critics.  Paddington currently has a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  What else has a 98% rating?  Not much, really.  Here are the top Rotten Tomatoes movies for 2014, and movies with that high a rating are artsy movies you and I will never see because they won't be in a movie theater near us.  Boyhood is 98% -- a movie that took 12 years to make by Richard Linklater is vying with Paddington for top honors.

Why am I so persnickity?  (British movies make me start speaking like Mary Poppins, especially since Ancestry DNA tells me I'm 69% British, more British than the average British citizen.)  I'm not.  It's a cute movie.  One might even say "twee."  But why it is a critical darling is a little beyond me.  Here is one review on Rogerebert.com -- the movie deftly walks the line between old-fashioned and technical wizardry, with some political pro-immigration overlay.  People love this bear.

I do not dislike bears.  One of my favorite movies (and very few people can say this) is The Country Bears, which has a 30% Rotten Tomatoes score, even with a great soundtrack.  Perhaps I don't get the Paddingtonmania because I never read the original books by Michael Bond.  Either way, I will solidly report that the movie was perfectly enjoyable, but not anywhere near recent children's movies hits, such as Big Hero 6.

The movie begins with some magical realism -- a British explorer travels to Darkest Peru (treated as a separate country here) forty years ago, befriending two "civilized" bears, who learned to speak English and conduct themselves as Englishmen using the explorer's books and other paraphrenalia he left with them.  They eventually came to look after their nephew, until an earthquake destroyed their tree-home.  The aunt put Paddington on a steamship as a stowaway to London to find the explorer and then went to the retirement home for bears outside of Lima.  Paddington sails along and gets to Paddington station (for which he is eventually named), living off jars of marmalade he has brought with him.

Paddington is taken home by the Brown family, fairly reluctantly.  Though his aunt told him that the English will of course welcome orphans with notes around their neck, just as English child evacuees were welcomed in the countryside during WWII.  This, predictably, did not happen when our bear landed at Paddington station.  So, our little bear is fairly sad to hear that the Browns will only host him for one night until suitable arrangements with an orphanage can be made.  And no, the Browns do not seem overly surprised to see a bear in the train station, nor do any other humans seem startled by a talking bear.  "Bear" does seem to be a substitute hear for a type of immigrant:  neighbors complain that a bear has moved in but at least it is just one; there is a complaint that a bear might play "jungle music" into the wee hours; the villain plays on this feeling by hinting "it's never just one bear."  

Of course, this is a happy family movie, so fairly soon the Browns plus Paddington are a happy family.  As the housekeeper notes, the family needed Paddington more than Paddington needed them, evoking every type of stray animal movie one could think of.  The movie could end once this small tension was resolved, but there is a larger plot at work:  an evil villain (Nicole Kidman) wants to literally stuff Paddington and make him part of a collection at a natural history museum.  So, the family must join together with Paddington to save the day.  ( I will say that under scrutiny, the larger plot device makes no sense to me.  The villain's origin story dates back to the explorer's return to London, when no one believed that he met two bears who were civilized and stripped him of respectability.  Yet, in present-day London everyone takes for granted that talking bears would be walking around, clothed and articulate, having tea and marmalade-covered toast.)

Of course, Mr. Brown is the most reluctant to accept Paddington (dragging his heels by 10 or 15 minutes more than the rest).  Mr. Brown is also Lord Grantham from Downton Abbey, or Hugh Bonneville as real people call him.  He has a particularly amusing scene in which he must dress as a cleaning woman.  All in all, we spent an enjoyable holiday Monday at the theater with Paddington.

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