95 min., rated PG.
There are different kinds of live-action/CGI-animated films: for kids only (i.e. 2007's "Alvin and the Chipmunks" and "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked," 2011's "The Smurfs" and 2013's "The Smurfs 2"), for the entire family (i.e. 2014's "The LEGO Movie"), and for adults only (i.e. 2012's "Ted"). Adults will know Paddington, the red hat-wearing, marmalade-loving bear everyone can't resist, the best, but this adaptation of Michael Bond's beloved book series is wonderful entertainment for anyone with a heart. Written and directed by Paul King and co-written by Hamish McColl, "Paddington" is so sweetly charming that criticizing it would make one just feel like a grump. While it looked painfully slapsticky at worst and inoffensive at best in its advertising campaign, the film is so much better than one could imagine. This is one of those gems one will actually remember during the doldrums of January moviegoing.
Years ago, British explorer Montgomery Clyde (Tim Downie) journeyed to the rainforests of darkest Peru and discovered advanced bears whom he befriended and taught the English language. After their human friend left, the bear couple would never forget him, perhaps maybe one day taking him up on his offer to visit London. Uncle Pastuzo (voice of Michael Gambon) and Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) would later be the guardians of a young talking cub (Ben Whishaw), but after an earthquake that destroys their treehouse, the bear sets off on a boat ride as a stowaway to London to begin his life. Many of the hustling-and-bustling crowds at the Paddington train station ignore the sight of a bear lugging around a suitcase with a note around his neck reading, "Please look after this bear. Thank you." There's hope, however, when he is welcomed home by kind adventure-story illustrator Mrs. Brown (Sally Hawkins) and her family, stuffy husband Mr. Brown (Hugh Bonneville), their perpetually embarrassed daughter Judy (Madeleine Harris), and astronaut-aspiring son Jonathan (Samuel Joslin). Once he's appropriately named and settles into the Brown household with more than a few houseguest disasters, Paddington hopes to track down the explorer pal of his aunt and uncle. Only does ruthlessly evil, tranquilizer-wielding National History museum taxidermist Millicent (Nicole Kidman) stand in Paddington's way, as she hopes to kidnap him and stuff him as her next exhibit.
With a striking aesthetic resembling Wes Anderson's earmarks, particularly the staging and whimsical art direction of the Brown family's dollhouse-like home, "Paddington" is delightful on the eyes, but it wouldn't be what it is without a gentle heart and a cheeky British sense of humor, too. The story functions as an origin story for a talking animal, not unlike 1999's "Stuart Little," and though it is set in modern times, there's a timelessness about it. And, like "Ted," nobody bats an eye that there's a walking, talking bear walking among them; it's just a way of life in London. To go with Paddington's antics, the Brown family, and the villain dead-set on stuffing our adorable hero is an allegory about immigration; it's there if you want it look for it, a bear coming to live in the foreign London.
Seamlessly integrated into every live-action frame, Paddington is a photorealistic visual effect that still feels like a real living, breathing character. It helps to have Ben Whishaw, who endearingly lends his voice to the titular bear. As Mrs. Brown, a wonderfully loving mother and wife, Sally Hawkins never fails to be an irresistible joy. Hugh Bonneville (TV's "Downton Abbey"), as Mr. Brown, believably navigates the arc of a disapproving skeptic who later joins in with his family to adore Paddington and gamely dresses in drag at one point; there's also an amusing backstory to how Mr. Brown used to be before starting a family with his wife. As the antagonist of the piece, blonde-bobbed taxidermist Millicent, Nicole Kidman bites into the scenery with a Cruella de Vil-ish relish. Slinking around in dominatrix pumps and a chic wardrobe, even if her career and intentions are less than savory, the actress is clearly having a ball. Finally, nobody does hilariously daffy like Julie Walters, a hoot as the Brown family's live-in relative and nanny, Mrs. Bird, who gets put to great use during the climactic rescue, and Peter Capaldi (TV's "Doctor Who") has a couple of fun moments as the Browns' grumbling neighbor.
Grade: A -