It’s not easy to make a children’s film. It’s not easy to do anything with or for children (parents, I can see you nodding in the back there) because of the sheer breadth of childhood experience that is out there. Articulating a story is easy when it’s for yourself; articulating a story that reaches out to others and hits something within them, that’s hard.And when you’re adapting something from a book, it gets even harder. Do you adapt your reading of the book or do you try and broaden the experience? Do you keep the bits you love or do you drop them when somebody else gives you negative feedback? How do you find the space for your story within a very successful other story?
Shall I tell you what you do, oh mystical implied other? You watch Paddington, that’s what you do, and you realise that this is probably the best movie out there (ever) that’s been adapted from a children’s book and then you hang up your socks and do something else because nothing you ever do will beat this pure and wonderful and loved piece of work.
Paddington is a joy. Adapted from Michael Bond’s Paddington books in which a small bear from Darkest Peru comes to London, the film is pretty much perfect. I don’t say that lightly and indeed, I didn’t expect it to be. You come to these movies with an awareness of the potential for failure. For every Paddington, there’s a Golden Compass or a Narnia; films which take these great swathes of wonderful literature and transform them into something a bit, well, awful.
Paddington defies that because it is a film which doesn’t underestimate its audience. Driven by a strong sense of magical realism, this London teeters on the edge of the fantastic and revels in it. Candy coloured houses, preternaturally present pigeons (one of the best running gags in the films), bands playing in the street, and characters who don’t bat an eyelid at a bear walking down the street. There are references back to evacuated children, touching on one of the great themes at the heart of Paddington, and this drives one of the most wonderful and heartwrenching sequences of the film (underpinned by a lovely and incredibly potent turn from Jim Broadbent). It’s smart film-making, and it’s brave and it’s innovative and it’s challenging. Scenes shift on a dime, leaves fall from a painted tree to signify the shift in the seasons, and I’ve never seen Paddington station look so wonderful. It’s easy to neglect the background in a film like this, but this is painterly space; landscape which tells the story as much as the spoken word does.This is a film which delivers slapstick and social commentary all in the same breath, alongside some of the best looking marmalade I’ve ever seen.
It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a film on this blog, and a lot of that’s driven from a slight malaise. I’ve not seen a film for a long time that has had me marked with love for it from the get go; there are moments, always, within every film, but it has been too long since I have been left breathless with love for something.
Paddington is perfect. It really, really is.
Here’s to you bear.
2 thoughts on “How to make the perfect film : take one small brown bear…”
Coincidentally, we watched this last night and I agree with you. It kept the feel of the originals while subtly updating them to the 21C, a feelgood film but without the saccharine feel of so many of this genre. The dynamics between members of the Brown family and Paddington were also faithful to the books.
Yes, I really loved how they stayed away from the saccharine. Such a gorgeous, well made film.