Friday, December 8, 2023
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Paddington Review

With a blue raincoat, tatty red hat and a fondness for marmalade, how harmless can Paddington really be? He hides dark secrets and darker intentions. No sane being would trust this beastly bear. He has burrowed his way into the hearts and minds of a generation for no other reason than being bright, colourful and forgettable. He is a tapeworm of massive proportions, and all Paddington, the first in the series from director Paul King offers, is the chance to see him grow and grow and grow. His tragic background jerks the heartstrings of an audience so hard their debit cards fall to the feet of plushie, kid-friendly sized dolls of the blue-coated beast. We must not give in. But why, why should we be so defensive against this harmless, charming bear?

Much of the problems surrounding Paddington are its tonal insincerity. Patching in grief very early into the running time, the scene is set for Paddington Bear to abandon his auntie and whisk himself away to London to find a new family. He leaves behind his flesh and blood to experience the big, aching horrors of the Great Wen. Ben Whishaw is fine in his role as the eponymous character, his soft and gullible voice provides a nicety that will coddle audiences that need it. With an ensemble so strong surrounding him, from Hugh Bonneville to Jim Broadbent, Sally Hawkins to Julie Walters, and a villainous Nicole Kidman to wrap it all up, we should expect some deeper level of quality through the story. Instead, King’s direction is too focused on laughter. Its shoddy narrative sees Paddington seek out new land to live in, and much of the comedy comes from this bear-out-of-jungle experience.

British comedy has often struck me as far more competent and experienced than that of our overseas chums in America. Those former colonies are a stickler for finding the funny bone, although when they do, it is usually with avant-garde expressionism or the brief vulgar auteurism found in the comedies of the early 2000s. Emphasis on vulgar for the likes of Dirty Work and Freddy Got Fingered. To compare that to Paddington is somewhat unfair, though, as Paddington wishes to coddle the kids and give the parents a well-earned break from the screaming and crying. There are moments where the comedy verges on darker components, though, which makes it all the more miserable to see Paddington’s humour is meaningless. It creates broad and unmanageable topics to comment on and observe, without understanding the impact it will have on the worldbuilding it sets out to craft with colour and flourish. Unremarkably British is the context Paddington desires, and it does so. What was the point, though?

How we moviegoers perceive this as the height of wondrous anthropomorphised caricatures is beyond the pale. We have so many light-hearted, animalistic offerings from the past decades to pick from, yet Paddington is the cream of the crop. It has light pockets of charm, but to say this is grander, greater and generally better than many of the humanlike creatures we’ve come across before is a hard stretch, an unbelievable one at that. Do we forget the work of Chicken RunKung Fu Panda, and Ratatouille so soon? “A wise man always keeps a marmalade sandwich in his hat, in case of emergencies,” are the words of wisdom Paddington’s relatives can offer to him. I keep a packet of Ritz crackers in my pockets, just in case the occasion arises. To each their own. At least mine has the longevity of salted sustenance. Paddington will be reeling with a sickly belly once he’s ploughed through that gelatinous waste of bread. Choke on it.

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Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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