A Rare Sort Of Affair: Paul King’s Paddington (2014) – DVD & Blu-ray review
Translating a classic of children’s literature into a classic of children’s cinema, yet King deftly juggles commercial crowd-pleasing with emotional nuance.
(Paul King, 2014)
Contemporary cinema is littered with terrible adaptations of beloved children’s literature, their charm cannibalised and neutered in favour of three-act character arcs, superfluous backstories and fart jokes. The best thing about Paddington is how true it is to the originals. Yes, there are action sequences and villains, but everything of note is extrapolated from Michael Bond’s originals.
After Harry Potter, David Heyman proves himself to be an astute midwife in page to screen adaptations. This is an intelligent piece of filling in the gaps, answering questions like where Paddington’s fascination with London came from – and indeed the marmalade obsession – as well as sowing the seeds for why somebody might not love the little bear. Yet the basics are drawn from the page and the timeless tale of how a family might take in a stranger as their own.
The dramatic tension comes from delaying the moment of acceptance, so that Mr Brown is at first an unwitting partner in Paddington’s domestication. Yet this is a sensible acknowledgement that time has passed; these are more cynical times than Bond’s original conception, into a London whose multi-culturalism is as frowned upon as cherished. The film, lightly but lovingly, becomes a reminder of Britain’s welcoming to immigrants, knowingly tapping into WWII refugees and finding its soundtrack in the stylings of a calypso band.
Crucially, the tone has the gentle whimsy and eccentricity of a story about a bear’s misadventures. Crudity is absent; this is a film about naivety and good intentions, its humour like a hug. That places the emphasis on the visuals in a way that is actually quite rare and director Paul King’s slapstick sensibilities are well utilised. The screenplay is a model of accumulated simplicity into complexity, notably a Mousetrap-style accident in the Brown’s home full of feverish ingenuity and detail.
Yet more than that, King revels in the tactility of Paddington’s surroundings: the best shot in the film shows the bear’s paw trailing along the ridges of a radiator, evoking a mindset that finds imagination and creative possibilities in everything. It’s no small wonder that Mrs Brown is a storyteller and Jonathan an amateur inventor (against which Mr Brown’s profession as a risk analyst is entirely apt: things are literally make-and-break).
The bric-a-brac sensation counteracts the CGI factor: Paddington feels genuinely at one in this world, especially when King toys with the visual unity of spaces via live-action doll’s houses, inventive flashbacks and the lovely motif of a household mural that changes with the emotional tempo of the story. True, there is a strong debt to the work of Wes Anderson (and, more obliquely, Hugo) but King’s childlike, utterly charming sensibility is utterly true not only to Paddington’s heritage but a whole strain of children’s cinema.