It's difficult not to go into a movie like this with a sense of dread, as the beloved children's book becomes a live-action movie with a digitally animated, eerily realistic-looking bear. Thankfully, the task of filmmaking was given to the inventive Paul King (of Mighty Boosh fame), who made the charmingly surreal 2009 comedy Bunny and the Bull and brings a refreshingly unexpected comical sensibility to liven up this film's family-friendly formula.
It starts in darkest Peru, where a young bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw) has been raised by his aunt and uncle (Imelda Staunton and Michael Gambon), who learned about London from a British explorer. Now in need of a new home, the youngster heads across the sea and takes the name of Paddington Station when he meets the Brown family: over-cautious dad (Hugh Bonneville), over-curious mum (Sally Hawkins), sulking teen Judy (Madeleine Harris), inventive pre-teen Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) and feisty relative Mrs Bird (Julie Walters). As they help him find the explorer, he has a series of adventures, unaware that the taxidermist Millicent (Nicole Kidman) is on his trail, determined to add him to the species on exhibition at the Natural History Museum.
This Cruella De Vil-style subplot would be seriously annoying if King ever let it take over the movie, but it always remains secondary to Paddington's mayhem-causing behaviour and his bonding with the Browns. It also provides some genuine tension in a climactic action sequence in the museum. But most of the film is dedicated to Paddington's comically ridiculous antics, and Whishaw voices him with just the right mixture of curiosity and hapless mischief to make him irresistible.
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