Second Sight: The Healing Sincerity of Paddington

Let me start this off by saying something right up front: whenever I talk about these movies to the un-initiated, they look at me like a crazy person. They like to remind me that I am a fully-grown man with adult responsibilities recommending a duology of movies about a red hat wearing talking bear that loves marmalade sandwiches.

They aren’t wrong. These are kids movies and they are very silly but…they are the best kind of kid’s movies. They follow the Pixar model of storytelling, making films that work for both adults and children without compromising the beating heart and feeling of the original books. These two movies that remind me that family films can be just as good, if not better than films that are aimed at adults. There is a genuine humanity and warmth in these films that a lot of films don’t have these days. The Paddington films are ones that everyone can enjoy and feel good after watching for years and years to come.

What is Paddington? Paddington is a modern adaption of the beloved British children’s books of the same name. After a deadly earthquake destroys his home in Peruvian rainforest, Paddington (Ben Whishaw) makes his way to England in search of a new home. The bear, dubbed "Paddington" for the London train station, finds shelter with the family of Henry (Hugh Bonneville) and Mary Brown (Sally Hawkins). Although Paddington's amazement at urban living soon endears him to the Browns, someone else has her eye on him: Taxidermist Millicent Clyde (Nicole Kidman) has designs on the rare bear and his hide.

What I like about Paddington is that it is a sincere and kind franchise. The jokes are fast paced and stylized, creating a world that feels unique yet familiar. Every character gets their moment to shine, especially the villains. Nicole Kidman is a lot of fun in the first film but Hugh Grant as the aging actor con-man villain in the second film is such a goofy and inspired performance that it should be studied for classes on how to play the perfect comedy villain.

Another strength of this franchise is the storytelling within them. Imagine Frank Capra meeting Wes Anderson and that’s what the direction and feeling of the Paddington movies that director Paul King brings to the series. Paddington is not a mean spirited character that aims to cause fun advertiser approved shenanigans, he genuinely wants the world to be a good place and see the best in people. The films have an exuberance and energy to them that a lot of films these days don’t have while respecting the original Paddington story as a whole. As a series, the two films are intended to bring the stories into the modern era without losing the joy and humanity within them.

What annoys me most about all of these adaptations and reboots we’re getting these days are these adaptations and reboots that take the basic premise of the original story they’re adapting, look it, laugh derisively and smugly announce “Seriously? You think we’re just going to adapt this classic time-worn story straight? Fuck that noise! We’re gonna bring this shit into the twenty-first century kicking and screaming, bros! This ain’t your grandparent’s beloved story, peeps!” And then proceed to take the characters, give them “snarky” dialogue and then bolt them onto the tamest, most boilerplate plot imaginable under the pretense that they’re “deconstructing” or “reimagining” a beloved character.

I mean, okay, maybe I’m overreacting to a kid’s movie adaptation that I’m not going to see of children’s stories that I haven’t read in decades, but sometimes you gotta do something different. Tell the stories the way they were meant to be told. The Paddington films do this.

The thing that always puzzles me about crappy little kids movies is that the studios are not marketing them to little kids; you’re marketing them to their parents. Parents will drop a few 12 year olds off at the theater to watch a movie by themselves, but they feel obligated to sit through a movie aimed at six year olds. Given the need to get little kids out of the house, movies are an obvious option. Parents are willing to sit through uninteresting movies as long as they’re not painful. You can ask my parents about that. And little kids? Little kids are happy to sit through almost anything, as long it’s decently paced and not too weird. It’s not hard to sell tickets to some halfway decent but unoriginal cartoon. So why studios insist on treating kids like fools, I don’t understand. Especially when they are beautiful films like the Paddington series right there waiting for them.

Paddington as a character is a good person. He’s moral, honest, and tries to do the right thing. He loves his family and they love him. He makes mistakes but they love him no matter what. They accept him for who he is because they need Paddington as much as he needs them.

I wish there were more Paddington’s in the world. He looks for the good in all of us human beings…and somehow, he finds it! It's why he makes friends wherever he goes. And it's why Windsor Gardens is a happier place whenever he's around. He doesn’t hesitate to help if anybody needs help! He’s a good role model to follow.

The world is a dumpster fire right now. There is a tendency for us to act curt, unkind, and just plain cruel to the other. We don’t need that. What we need is kindness, sincerity, and love. We need to treat each other the best possible way we can, with open minds and open hearts. Maybe the world wouldn’t be so terrible, if we did that. It’s just like what Paddington’s beloved Aunt says, “If we're kind and polite, the world will be right.” 

-Liam S. O'Connor