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Kids movies, for the most part, are either extremely simplistic and cashing in on a franchise, or comedic romps with no emotional depth. It's hard to make a children's movie that not only entertains the little ones, but also gives the adults something to enjoy. Every now and then, there comes a movie that breaks the rules and transcends common sense, delivering a product that is sublimely brilliant, but perfect for all ages. In the tradition of Stuart Little and Hugo before it, Paddington is one of those amazing films that perfectly blends heart and humor, with a gigantic quantity of whimsy.
From the jungles of Darkest Peru, Paddington (Ben Whishaw) embarks on a journey to the big city of London. There he will go on a quest to find an explorer who visited his native land, as well as try to find himself a new family to live with. At least, that's the plan; and the plan isn't really working out for him until he meets the Brown family. While Mrs. Brown (Sally Hawkins) is all for helping the young bear, Mr. Brown (Hugh Bonneville) is against it entirely. Until Paddington can find a home, the Browns will have to watch him closely, as he's in as much danger by himself as he is when he's being chased by an evil taxidermist (Nicole Kidman).
Paddington, based on the long-running children's book series from legendary author Michael Bond, is a film that keeps in the spirit of the source material, while at the same time adding a level of emotion and nuance that would be expected from a more mature film. The subject of Paddington's immigration to England is a particularly good example of how this comes to be, as dramatic events straight out of Disney's finest films send our protagonist to the big city. Throughout its super colorful chain of events, Paddington throws a gag in here, a smile in there, and some tears for good measure – all of which are anchored by Ben Whishaw's heartwarming performance as Paddington himself.
The big reason Paddington works so exceedingly well is that everyone involved is firing on all cylinders, fully committing to a film that's basic premise is extremely fantastical. The film doesn't turn the fact that Paddington interacts with people into a joke, and even the bear's CGI design is smooth and good looking enough for his existence to fit in with an otherwise realistic universe. Director Paul King's pedigree working on shows like The Mighty Boosh really comes in handy with Paddington, as he's used to blending the fantastical with realism. Some of his visuals are even cribbed from the Wes Anderson playbook, as a dollhouse sequence mirrors a device from Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom.
There's a good reason Paddington has been nominated for both Best Adapted Screenplay and Outstanding British Film at this year's BAFTAs; and that reason is that this film is so technically and artfully executed that it is a pitch perfect product. In 95 minutes, it manages to put together a story that is exciting enough for children to enjoy, what with the ingenious set pieces Paul King has executed in his writing and direction. However, it also has enough challenging material to foster conversations with parents about subject matter that's usually swept under the rug in more typical children's fare.
Paddington is a triumphant success as both a children's film, and a literary adaptation that goes the extra mile.