Director: Paul King
Stars: Ben Whishaw (voice), Hugh Bonneville
2 (out of 5) Globes
Basically the English equivalent of a “Smurfs” movie, “Paddington” is a semi-tolerable CGI-live action mash-up that starts wincingly lowest-common denominator before turning delightfully eccentric and, well, English. There’s also a lot of marmalade, as there should be. Resurrecting an old national standby, it deposits a talking, face-licking Peruvian bear with a duffle coat and British accent (voiced, with charming awkwardness, by Ben Whishaw) into the London home of a semi-functional family. He proceeds to a wave of clumsy destruction, wrecking their loo, getting lost in the tube and at one point accidentally riding a skateboard.
“Paddington” never aims any higher; there’s even a forehead-slappingly easy “Mission: Impossible” reference in the action climax. But around the halfway mark its English silliness gets amped up, softening the many less inspired aspects. There’s a token uptight family patriarch (Hugh Bonneville) who needs de-uptighting, which he does, perhaps inevitably, by putting on a dress. (Paddington himself was once to be voiced by Colin Firth. Given that Bonneville is playing what could be dubbed “The Colin Firth Character,” that would have been awfully redundant.) But there’s also Nicole Kidman, fun — as she always is when she’s actually allowed to have fun — as the villain: an evil, rogue taxidermist, out to nab our furry hero for some cheerfully nonsensical reason. (Even better, the mother is played by an always game Sally Hawkins.)
At times “Paddington” threatens to break into the inspired loopiness one tends to see in such reliable English comic machines as Aardman. There’s even a strong national pride running through it, with nearly every role filled by famous, or at least familiar, U.K. comics. (This being said, Peter Capaldi deserves better than a goofily unpleasant neighbor with a thing for Kidman.) Bad puns are appreciated — when Paddington accidentally winds up in constable’s clothes, someone naturally says, “It’s a fur cop” — but it’s a film at war with itself. There are two writers: one (Hamish McColl) who writes pap like “Mr. Bean’s Holiday,” another (Paul King) who worked on the surreal likes of “The Mighty Boosh” and “Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace.” Rather they fuse together they split the difference, making something too light to be loved but, eventually, too weird to write off. It’s the kind of film too dignified to play “Lady Marmalade” but not dignified enough to not play “I Got You (I Feel Good).”