Turning up at the cinema to see Paddington with my two parents would have been socially acceptable if I were under the age of twelve. Seated in the middle of a gang of squealing under-tens (not even able to mask my incessant embarrassment in the shadow of the back row – what kind of teenager am I?) comfortably in between old mummy and daddy, I scowled at the screen.
A sequence of adverts for heavily stereotyped animation. Oh god. A scuttle of gleeful shrieks from down the front. Why me? But then the film started and for ninety minutes I became a child again – a proper little giggling mess of a child. What was wrong? Had I been drugged by my Evian? Or caressed by the subtle powers of the parental guidance gods? With the latter confirmed by my ever-growing laughter – louder and more frequent than even the proper children – a big ‘Fuck You Teenagehood, you have officially been shunned’ was required.
We all know Paddington, Michael Bond’s 70s Spectacled Bear. But this Paddington’s been upgraded, pimped, shall we say. No longer a puppet, this bear’s been under the influence of two equally compelling forces: the computer and the Whishaw. Ben (Bond’s Q, no less) is perfect voice casting, even if it did take a couple of goes (Colin Firth was originally chosen, though expressed his own self-doubts during recording.) Like any respectable young bear, Paddington is taught strict manners and the rules of an English society. On leaving his Aunt Lucy in the earthquake battered Darkest Peru, armed with several jars of trusty marmalade and an equally trusty sandwich-holding hat, he arrives in London – well, Paddington station, to be precise. But what of all the polite and proper English peoples? What of the accommodating welcome to old London town?
And welcome he got, just an ignored one.
At its core, his story centers around alienation. Alone in a strange city with only a hat and a sandwich to keep him company, the film’s child-protecting-rainbow-filter does block out a considerable layer of gruesome reality. Imagine if a real little Peruvian grizzly turned up on the platform in the middle of rush hour. Now that’s a Border Force episode worth watching. Though, Mr Brown’s reaction is probably a better representation of the English attitude to anyone with a bit of civility or courtesy to strangers. “Probably selling something.”And yet, Mrs Brown sees the child in Paddington, the lost and lonely child in search of a home so, to the despair of Mr Brown, takes him under her wing, giving him an English name and a temporary home. A home which the newly-Christened Paddington seems very skilled at destroying several times over.
For adults, the film has this Richard Curtis style idealism. For an hour and a half, you can pretend everyone lives in impeccably done out multi-million pound townhouses; you can pretend snow in London is pure and crisp, and not the mud sludge that leaves the bottom of your jeans tinged a suspicious shade of brown; you can pretend you aren’t going to blubber into your out-of-date cornflakes tomorrow, wishing for a Paddington to bring excitement to your dwindling life. That’s family films for you.
But it’s okay, because Sally Hawkins’ Mrs Brown is the embodiment of charm. In fact, the film boasts an entire cast of solid gold. Aside from your Hawkins and your Bonnevilles, the story is peppered with countless notable Britons and, if you don’t mind a list: Julie Walters, Michael Gambon, Matt Lucas, Peter Capaldi, need I go on? Oh, more? Is that not enough for you? Well, okay then. Jim Broadbent, Steve Oram, Alice Lowe and even Fonejacker himself, Kayvan Novak.
And each and every one adds to the mix of animated and human performance. Technology is just a side note in the dynamic – an aid to the comedy and a lesson in computer artistry. Just look, really look, at the details on Paddington’s fur. And so, the charm is retained, for me at least. And it is through this that it can truly be said the film has been crafted for parent and child alike. Visual comedy cuts through boundaries of age, stimulating that innate inkling to laugh at someone else’s problems. A bath sliding down three flights of stairs. Ha. Water damage. An explosion in the kitchen. Ha. Fire damage. Ha. HA.
Laughter really does bring people together. And films.