We could all use a little Paddington

The film poster depicts Paddington bear in his red hat and blue coat, eating a jelly sandwich, against a blue background of the London skyline.

By Khaleel G.

I must confess a librarian’s sin: I always mix up Paddington the bear with Corduroy (who is also a bear). Three decades after first reading these books, I only remembered a cute lil’ guy, riding up an escalator, getting into good-hearted mischief. Yet over the past few years, I’ve read amazing reviews of the two Paddington films. Critics said these are some of the best family movies ever made – high praise! But like the thousands of movies, novels, albums, memoirs, histories, and graphic novels I’ve been recommended, I filed these films away in the bursting file cabinet in my mind, labeled “To Check Out, Sometime Later.”

Well, I wish I hadn’t waited so long. These films operate not only as delightful living cartoons, but they’re optimistic, contemporary, and totally absurd in that specific UK comedy way. The director, Paul King, is most famous for having worked on The Mighty Boosh, a British comedy show from the 2000s best described as visual and narrative anarchy. Here, though, he turns what might be a humdrum kids’ book adaptation into a compelling and confoundingly fun romp. 

The premise is simple, but sorta weird, as you see it happen with real actors (and a small, talking animal).  Our protagonist bear (from “Darkest Peru”) is sent north by his auntie and ventures into London alone, with a small tag around his neck reading, “Please look after this bear. THANK YOU.” Upon arriving at Paddington station, he meets the Brown family, who take him in for the night, dubbing him “Paddington” (since they can’t pronounce his name in roars of Bearish). They hope to find a new home for him, the one promised decades ago by an explorer his aunt and uncle met, who extended his hospitality should they ever visit London. Thus, the film properly begins. 

Paddington is shown in his blue coat and red hat, riding an escalator with a small white dog with a jeweled collar.

This is when Paddington sets itself apart from its PG peers. We’re introduced to the Brown family through a Wes Anderson/Royal Tenenbaums-style montage; these carefully shot sequences detail their unique personalities. Like young Judy, who suffers from an incurable case of “embarrassment,” worried about introducing her middle school crush to her family. Or the younger Jonathan, who can’t tell his school chums that he just loves steam engines. Mrs. Brown illustrates children’s books, but can’t come up with a hero, while Mr. Brown is a work-weary insurance investigator, very dry and worried. They’re just as strange as an immigrant bear with a floppy red hat, and each Brown family member discovers and accepts this over the course of the story.

Of particular note is Hugh Bonneville, who played the regal father in Downton Abbey, as Mr. Brown, who doesn’t much like the idea of living with a bear (alluding to issues around immigration and housing, a surprisingly contemporary twist). Before long, Bonneville warms to the little scamp, as they search across London for that welcoming explorer, getting into some Monty Pythonesque escapades.

Joining him is Nicole Kidman, as a mad taxidermist intent on capturing Paddington, and boy! she really gives it her all! I haven’t seen a “serious, dramatic” actor lean so hard into being a goofy yet menacing villain in a long while – though in the second film, Hugh Grant one-ups her. He plays a washed-up actor turned thief, dressing in all sorts of costumes to steal what he needs, while performing many ridiculous accents. If you can believe it, he claims this to be his finest work. On top of that, we get delightful supporting performances by BBC regulars, like Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, and Brendan Gleeson, each stealing their scenes with panache.

Hugh Grant is depicted in a blue and grey checked suit with ascot, and a blue wide-brimmed fedora, in front of a carnival-themed calliope.
Hugh Grant, depicted in Paddington 2.

I could go on and on about these films! I haven’t even mentioned the Rube Goldberg stunt scenes. Paddington makes some simple mistake, usually based on a misunderstanding of technology or culture, and sets off a chain of chaos. In one scene, he begins by trying to clean out his ears (a gross-out gag for the kids), but ends up flooding the Brown family’s bathroom to the ceiling, as he floats in the tub. It’s pure Looney Tunes stuff, but the combination of CG with real-world props makes it seem grounded in reality…a reality where people don’t think it’s strange that a bear can talk, but a reality all the same.

So, whether you have kids to entertain, have a fondness for British wackiness, or just want to see a very polite but confused bear bungle about London spreading chaos and also understanding, you must see Paddington and Paddington 2. I cannot recommend these two movies enough, as a spirit-lifting way to spend two evenings.

Paddington and Paddington 2 are available on DVD (rated PG), as well as the original Paddington adaptations for younger kids; the Paddington books are available in print; Corduroy is also available in print (if you want to get two fictional bears confused).  

Khaleel has worked at the Miller Branch since 2015, though he’s been back and forth between HCLS and high school, college, and graduate school since 2003.  

Manga Chat: Basketball & Cannibals

The cover depicts a redheaded basketball player, brown furrowed and mouth angry and open as if yelling, wearing his jersey and a jacket.

By Khaleel G.

As winter rears its cold head, I’ve found myself returning to manga – Japanese comics –  more often. Partly for the comfort it brings this aging nerd, and partly for the way you can read one volume, then pick up another, like eating bunches of caramel popcorn. 

But mostly, I return to manga because the stories are always so different. I’d like to recommend two series we have at HCLS that I’ve been reading side by side, one about basketball and one about supernatural cannibals…different, indeed.

Slam Dunk by Takehiko Inoue is a sports manga published between 1990 and 1996, focusing on a high school boys’ basketball team. Hanamichi Sakuragi is a punk, a loser, and desperate for a girlfriend. After fifty rejections of his declarations of love, he finds himself drawn to Haruko Akagi, the one girl who doesn’t think he’s a total dweeb. And she introduces him to basketball, a sport he previously hated (mostly because his most recent crush turned him down to date a basketball player). 

So, he joins the team, acts like a total fool, but along the way Sakuragi discovers his talent for the sport, for aggressive play that impresses his teammates. Like other sports manga, he discovers more about himself and his team, the sport, and what it means to grow up. This all occurs in early 90s Japan, at the height of basketball’s popularity across the globe, so there’s a certain nostalgic glow to the story and art.

Speaking of the art, it’s clean, expressive, and veers between comedic scenes and heart-pounding sports action. Inoue’s skill as an artist shows through, but his ability as a storyteller, bringing us along Sakuragi’s journey of becoming a proper adult and baller, is what keeps me reading. Slam Dunk is 31 volumes, so it can be a bit of a time investment, but I’ve been enjoying it thoroughly, both as a sports story and as a nostalgia piece for the 1990s. 

The cover depicts a young man seated, with a book in hand, leaning on his hand. One eye is brown but the other is bright red.


On a completely separate note, Tokyo Ghoul by Sui Ishida takes place in a modern Tokyo, which seems fairly ordinary. Ah, except for the ghouls – supernatural creatures who look exactly like humans but for their need to consume human flesh. Ken Kaneki is a college student who loves literature and coffee, until a first date turns into a fight for survival when his crush reveals herself as a ghoul. The night ends in an accident, and in the hospital her ghoul’s organs are transplanted into Kaneki. He becomes a hybrid ghoul, torn between the human and ghoul worlds, trying to fit into both.

The art is grim, dark, and bloody (this is absolutely a read for mature audiences), and as Kaneki falls deeper into the ghoul world, monstrous cruelties emerge from the shadow beneath Tokyo. However, unlike other horror titles in the genre, Tokyo Ghoul has something more – a heart. Sure, ghouls can be horrifying monsters capable of unthinkable violence, but at the same time, Kaneki discovers that they’re not born that way. Indeed, a ghoul is just another kind of person (who eats human flesh), and the story is full of moments where the reader questions, “Who’s the real monster?” 

Of course, there are super-cool fights between the ghouls and the anti-ghoul investigators, drawn expertly. But again, Ishida’s writing doesn’t let this series slip into a fight-of-the-week style, like many other action manga series. Kaneki’s transformation is fraught with moments of questioning: what it means to live, what it means to love, and how does anyone survive in a world like this. 

I was surprised at the depth of this series, and while it is violent and action-packed, there’s way more to it than that. The original series is 14 volumes, followed by Tokyo Ghoul: RE, a sequel series – I’ve only read the first half, but can’t wait to dive into the second, which should keep me occupied for a bit more of this long, long winter.

Slam Dunk and Tokyo Ghoul are available in print from HCLS branches.

Khaleel has worked at the Miller Branch since 2015, though he’s been back and forth between HCLS and high school, college, and graduate school since 2003.