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.  

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

At the top, it reads "From Taika Waititi director of What We Do in the Shadows." Across an almost clear blue sky is the title "Hunt for the Wilderpeople" flanked by antlers.  Three figures are shown in close up profile - one is an adolescent boy wearing a cheetah print trucker hat, the next is a bearded man wearing a hunting hat, and the last one is a boar that appears to be mid-laugh.  Across the bottom, there are grasslands and forested mountains shrouded in mist.

Review by Kimberly

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an adventure-comedy-drama that follows rebellious twelve-year-old Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) and gruff woodsman Hec (Sam Neill) on an unexpected journey through the wild bush of New Zealand. Ricky Baker has been dubbed a “real bad egg” foster kid whose crimes include spitting, throwing rocks, kicking stuff, loitering, and graffiti. This is his last chance to make it work, and he is not happy about it. The character of Ricky Baker personifies the way I remember adolescence feeling – being confident and cocky on the outside, but searching for a place to belong. It is a simple story told well with the gorgeous setting of New Zealand as backdrop. 

Director Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit, Boy, What We Do in the Shadows) has an uncanny ability for storytelling. He strives to change the conversation by addressing the plights of those who have been marginalized and ignored in mainstream movies. He then captures their narrative in a touching, yet playful, way. He doesn’t adhere to standard tropes or stereotypes. Waititi creates a quirky and sympathetic characters that leaves you rooting for the underdog.

I found this coming-of-age tale funny, charming, and intoxicating. It doesn’t shy away from hard topics – delving into themes of foster care, abuse, and grief. However, it never takes itself too seriously: it is rife with banter and one-liners that are perfect fodder for inside jokes – and may even have you adopting some kiwi slang.  This film has the makings of a cult classic. Taking my cue from Ricky Baker, I’ll summarize my review with a haiku:

Its one of a kind

Finds beauty in the heartbreak

Nature meets gangster

If you watch this FILM,
please COME BACK and SHARE WITH US
your haiku BELOW.

Find Hunt for the Wilderpeople on Kanopy

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is rated PG-13 for thematic elements including violent content, and for some language.

Kimberly is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at the HCLS Elkridge Branch.  She enjoys reading, photography, crafting, and baking.