"Please look after this bear, thank you." Those are the words on a label around the neck of a small ursine creature newly arrived in London and looking for a home. They also get at the heart of "Paddington," a highly enjoyable film adaptation of Michael Bond’s children’s book series first published in 1958.
Paddington (voice of Ben Whishaw) comes to England from the Peruvian forest with great expectations about British manners and hospitality, based on secondhand knowledge of an English explorer who befriended his aunt and uncle. (This back story is conveyed in an amusing parody of an old newsreel.)
But 21st-century London isn’t quite the bastion of civilization that Paddington dreamed about. This is hard on him, because he’s a very benevolent and mannerly bear, whose only vice is a fondness for marmalade. At his uncle’s urging, he always carries a marmalade sandwich in his floppy hat, which, along with a duffel coat, is his signature apparel.
Paddington (nicely rendered in CGI) is taken in by the Brown family (which may remind more mature viewers of the Banks clan in "Mary Poppins"), over the objections of Mr. Brown (Hugh Bonneville), a somewhat officious risk analyst. But kindhearted Mrs. Brown (Sally Hawkins) insists they give the bear a home.
Their guest’s first encounter with a bathroom leads to some wild slapstick and a bit of fairly tame gross-out humor, which may be trying for adults but will be catnip to kids. But much of the film’s humor is of a gentler, verbal sort.
The pace accelerates with the appearance of evil Millicent (Nicole Kidman), a taxidermist at the Museum of Natural History who would just love to add a stuffed bear to the collection. As she plots to kidnap him, Paddington, fearing he’s alienated his hosts, flees the Brown household. There are cartoonish action sequences that knowingly borrow from the likes of the "Mission: Impossible" pictures.
Will Paddington win over Mr. Brown and find a real home? My lips are sealed. Suffice it to say that this is good family fare with plenty of decent gags (visual and otherwise), and it’s nicely acted by all the principals. In addition, Julie Walters, Peter Capaldi and Jim Broadbent turn up in smaller but still lively roles.
It might even boost the market for marmalade.