Talking Bear Movie 'Paddington' Is So Good, It Makes Other Movies Look Silly [Movie Review]

Paddington is a PG-rated family film about a talking bear who moves from the jungles of Peru to London. That premise, based on a popular series of children's book by Michael Bond, is obviously silly. Yet writer director Paul King's adaptation is so on the money, so well-done, so deceptively simple, heartfelt and flat-out entertaining, it make movies with far more plausible plots seem silly by comparison.

Below read the rest of our Paddington movie review, which talks about what the movie does right that others should take note of.

Keep It Simple

Films these days are complicated. Two plus hours of plot upon plot, liberally illustrated with action scenes, trying to give theatrical audiences their money's worth. Paddington gives people their money's worth by being simple, direct and having a good story.

The film starts with a newsreel setting up a world where an English explorer travels to "Darkest Peru" on an expedition. There he finds a rare species of walking, talking bear. Fast-forward a few decades and those bears have had a kid (Paddington, voiced by Ben Whishaw) who is forced to move to London. Once in London, he has to find a home.

That's it. That's the story. The rest of the movie – which runs just under 90 minutes – follows Paddington and the London family (including Downton Abbey's Hugh Bonneville and Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins) trying to find a place for Paddington to live. It's a simple story that rarely deviates from that goal, save for one or two fun little effects-driven action sequences.

Take Things Seriously

It would have been very easy for Paddington to waste half its run time with people in London scared of or confused by the sight of a walking, talking bear. In fact, that's something you expect from a traditional movie. But that never happens in King's film and that very important decision sets the tone for the entire movie.

By making the audience believe this world is totally fine with a bear who talks, it instantly sets the table for everything else. It's fun, it's a little irreverent, but it takes itself very seriously. There's no ill will here. And there's no awkwardness created by confused or evil human beings. Everyone is fine with a walking and talking bear, so the audience can be, too. Then we can just enjoy the ride, laugh at the jokes, and begin to fall in love with the characters in the film.

The one minor gripe with the film is King's tone is so set, specific and lovely, those aforementioned effects-driven action sequences feel a bit out of place, but you understand and forgive their inclusion. This is a movie for kids after all.

A Strong Family Dynamic

Even in the best family films of all time, the families at the center of the movie often break into factions. Maybe the kids versus the parents, the mom versus the dad, or everyone versus the mom. Once those films start to move along, you only see a few of those characters going on the adventure. In Paddington, while there is definitely a unique and rocky family dynamic, eventually it becomes a literal family adventure. The mother, father, daughter, son and even the housekeeper all team up to help Paddington in his quest to find a home.

How rare is that? To see a healthy family, with a singular goal, working together towards that goal throughout a movie? It's so refreshing and surprising that it makes the film even more warm and inviting. That drive also sets up lots of funny jokes, and moments of redemption and drama, but everything has much higher stakes because the family is doing it together.

Effective Effects and Casting

Obviously, Paddington himself is a huge special effect. This is a big effects movie. But the effect is used and treated like it's not an effect, which makes it that much more, um, effective. There are probably only three or four instances in the film where Paddington isn't acting like a normal person, which helps him become one with the story. So many movies spend all that money on an effect and feel the need to exploit it, but not in Paddington.

The character works even better because King has surrounded the bear with an absolutely amazing cast. We've already mentioned Ben Whishaw as Paddington. He's very prim, proper and lovable, even without showing his face. His parents are voiced, in nothing more than a cameo, by Michael Gambon and Imelda Staunton. The Browns, Paddington's would-be family, are lead by Broadbent and Hawkins, as previously mentioned. Their housekeeper is Julie Walters, the neighbor is Peter Capaldi, and their shopkeeper friend is Jim Broadbent. On top of that already stellar cast, Nicole Kidman plays the film's villain, an evil taxidermist with her heart set on a new addition to her collection.

What these actors all have in common is that, in this little family movie, they could have gone crazy with their roles. They don't. Maybe they're a tad hyper realistic, but never enough to stand out or be distracting. Everything about their performances are grounded so that when there are moments of wonder, they pop off the screen. No one ever forgets this film is set in a realistic, if slightly off, time and place.

Moments of Magic

What truly makes Paddington special is that, while it is a simple story with great characters and lots of serious moments, it can often break into moments of magic. Moments where you realize, yes, this is a realistic world but there's a talking bear walking around. Moments of pure cinema. The way we're truly introduced into the Brown family is absolutely lovely, and when Paddington finally learns more about the explorer at the beginning of the movie, the film pulls off an absolutely breathtaking transition into fantasy. In those moments, Paddington goes from really good movie to pretty damn fantastic movie. It's also because the movie uses these moments sparingly, where other movies might have hammered you over your head with them.

A Self-Contained, Happy Ending

Because Paddington is a family movie, it's not a spoiler to say there's a happy ending. It's very sweet and appropriate to the film. But one more thing Paddington does right that other films don't, is to tie a bow on the story. Yes, there could be more stories set in this world with these characters but it doesn't have a huge set up for a sequel or anything. This is a movie, it's over, and it's so damn good you'll want to share it with everyone you love.

/Film rating: 9 out of 10