This is not only a dandy, playful movie about a talking bear, but one that gives pause for thought, too.
Paddington is the titular anthropomorphic cub, a hat-wearing, home-seeking little guy who is familiar to those who have read the Paddington Bear series of children's stories by the Berkshire-bred Michael Bond. The bear is adorable and quite the handful in a mostly live-action film that concerns his stowaway trip from the "darkest Peru" to London, where a family (ostensibly temporarily) takes him in.
Imaginatively presented and clever of story, Paddington wins with sweetness and message. We have a family led by a patriarch (Hugh Bonneville) who is overly careful and absolutely wary of a bear in his house. And for good reason: The fuzzy charmer is a walking calamity who causes the type of minor fires and bathroom flooding that put the family's house insurance policies to the test. That being said, the home is enlivened by Paddington's agreeable manner and adventurous nature, to the point where a family of four set in its ways receives a needed bump from its comfort zone, even as the somewhat-civilized animal tests their patience.
Director and co-writer Paul King sparks up the story from its cozy intentions, deftly adding a comment on xenophobia. Noticing the arrival of a Peruvian bear to a properly staid, middle-class street, a nosy neighbour (Peter Capaldi) worries about "jungle music" and "all-night picnics." As well, here and there a calypso band pops up, smiling big even in the rain, and the anti-immigration lobby is gently poked.
Beyond all that, what we have are high jinks and intrigue as Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) attempts to track down Montgomery Clyde, the explorer who years earlier discovered a pair of rare tree-dwelling, talking bears in the South American jungle. The right-good chap left the ursine couple to their marmalade-loving domesticity, but not before throwing them his hat and a promise about the welcoming nature of Londoners should they ever decide to leave the semi-wilds.
Later, after an earthquake destroys their habitat, Paddington's aunt sends her nephew off to London in search of a new home. The culture clash gives the story its colour, along with the occasion for puns – a GPS device gives the instruction to "bear left" – that are corny but bearable.
Of the youngish family of four, the mother is the most soulful. She's played by the talented Sally Hawkins, whose turn here is charmingly and skillfully animated.
The villain is a taxidermist who is lethally impatient, not willing to wait until a creature dies a natural death before she stuffs it. She's played by none other than a blond-bobbed Nicole Kidman, dressed to kill in a lab coat (or a snakeskin body suit) and outstandingly accurate with a blowgun.
Things end on an upbeat, with an unusually illegal immigrant not only finding a home but enriching it, with a multicultural lesson – "In London nobody's alike, which means everyone fits in" – that is confident. Quite the bear hug, all in all.