'Paddington' tells the story of the comic misadventures of a young Peruvian bear who travels to the city in search of a home. Finding himself lost and alone, he begins to realize that city life is not all he had imagined -until he meets the kindly Brown family who read the label around his neck that says "Please look after this bear. Thank you," and offer him a temporary haven. It looks as though his luck has changed until this rare talking bear catches the eye of a museum taxidermist. The film features an entirely computer-generated bear who interacts with a cast of esteemed actors.
Before 'Paddington' opened in U.S. cinemas, it was already an international success. Based on the wildly popular children's book series written by Michael Bond, the property has been cherished since the late 1950s. With the tales of the beloved bear being passed down to several generations, it's like the British equivalent of Charles Schulz's 'Peanuts.' And although 'Paddington' isn't commonly known throughout the U.S., the quality of work spoke for itself when it finally hit domestic theaters and saw stateside success.
The story kicks off by introducing us to an adolescent bear living in the jungles of Darkest Peru. With his parents having died when he was very young, he's spent his life in the care of his aunt and uncle. We learn of their lives in the jungle and a time that they met a human explorer who took to them and taught them how to speak English and live in a more civilized and "human" fashion. When an earthquake lays waste to their jungle home, the young hat-wearing bear is sent to London to track down their explorer friend and seek his help.
After stowing away on a cargo ship and a train, our lovable and innocent computer-animated central character finds himself stranded in London's Paddington train station. Ignored by most, the little guy asks for help, but finds none. Finally, after several hours, the kind mother (Sally Hawkins) of the small Brown family recognizes his need and persuades her husband (Hugh Bonneville) to bring him home. With them and their two children unable to pronounce his roar-like bear name, they give him the fitting human name of Paddington.
While Mrs. Brown is very open to helping Paddington, rigid Mr. Brown is too worried of the risk of helping an unknown and potentially wild character. Mr. Brown agrees to bring Paddington home just for the night and plans to take him to the police in the morning. Knowing that Paddington will likely end up in an orphanage, Mrs. Brown secretly agrees to help Paddington track down the explorer that visited Darkest Peru.
'Paddington' unfolds episodically bouncing between two different ongoing story lines. The first involves the hunt for the British explorer, the second involves a crazed woman (Nicole Kidman) who's hell-bent on capturing paddington and adding him to her stuffed animal collection. With the help of the Browns odd neighbor (Peter Capaldi), capturing Paddington appears to be inevitable.
One of the most unique aspects of 'Paddington' is how it functions unlike most modern family flicks. It doesn't feature the quick-cut editing that some filmmakers think is required to keep kids attention; instead, it unfolds like an average drama. It takes its time developing characters so that when the story gets dramatic, you're invested in the characters. There's not an ounce of the expected bathroom or potty humor in the entire film. Sorry, folks – there isn't a single bear poop joke to be found here.
'Paddington' may not be the most entertaining kids movie of all time, but it far exceeds the typical ones that have been trending as box office failures. With Pixar losing its touch and DreamWorks pumping out inconsistent content, I look forward more to another 'Paddington' movie than anything from those two studios.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The Weinstein Company has placed 'Paddington' on a region a BD-50 Blu-ray disc accompanied with a DVD copy and a redemption code for an ultraviolet copy. A plain cardboard slipcase covers the standard blu Elite keepcase. Included in the packaging alongside the ultraviolet code is another slip of paper with an advertisement for London vacations, a coupon for cold cereal, and a tidbit on the Paddington DVD series from long ago. When you pop the disk into your player, unskippable anchor Bay and Weinstein vanity reels play. Three skippable trailers follow ('Underdogs,' 'The Giver,' 'Escape from Planet Earth'), but you can bypass them all by clicking your top menu button.
'Paddington' hits Blu-ray with a fantastic 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 in code. The aspect that is so strong that it's almost distracting is how detailed the level of animation is. While the live-action material looks amazing, the animated bear fur it is spectacular. While all other levels of detail are great, the bear fur will constantly have you staring at it. Unfortunately, some of the other very minor CG animations aren't as strong – but that's okay because they hardly carry the gorgeous need that the fur does. The computer animated marmalade that pours on Paddington's uncle's head looks horrible, but the fur that surrounds it is impressive.
Fittingly, 'Paddington' carries a marmalade-esque color palette that is very warm and enjoyable. For the most part, the movie is bright. Nighttime or dark setting scenes feature nice black levels, but the contrast within the bright scenes is perfect.
Like the movie 'Up,' 'Paddington' opens with an old black & white reel-to-reel newscast that shows the explorer's trip to Darkest Peru. While that video was intentionally flawed, the entirety of 'Pattington' is flawless. No bands. No aliasing. No crushing. No artifacts. And not a lick of noise. It doesn't get much better than this.
'Paddington' features a swell 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio track. Like the video, I had hoped for an equally perfect audio presentation, but what's here isn't quite perfect. It's lacking in one pretty significant area.
Although not always exciting and loud, 'Paddington' offers plenty of instances where full and immersive audio could truly enhance the video presentation. All too often, the volume of the surround and rear channels is too low. Sound emits from those speakers, but not with the weight of what comes from the front speakers. The effects mixing is what suffers the most in this area. The music and score still play loudly and clearly from those channels, showing that the problem is with in the mix itself. A few great instances feature less-crowded audio in the front, which allows the effects to sound better in the surround channels – like when a fired tranquilizer dart ricochets across the room – but those instances don't occur as much as they should/could.
The vocal mixing of 'Paddington' is very good. Be it an actor who is seen on screen, or an actor who lent his voice in post-production to an animated character, the levels are always naturally smooth and matched. Neither sound different from one another.
Each of the included special features (including the Blu-ray exclusive feature) is extremely brief and serves more of a promotional purpose – like EPK videos – than offering insight to the movie and its production. Each is also highly clip-based.
Every once in a while, a small and unlikely film will break the mold and reach out to a much wider audience than originally anticipated. 'Paddington' is that type of movie in the way that there was absolutely no sign that it would do much business in the U.S. - but it did. With a rich and unique story, and fun characters and themes that anyone can relate to, it's really no surprise. The Blu-ray's video quality is pristine, while the audio could have been mixed better. Several speacial features are included, but with each of them serving as a promotional piece, not a single one of them is worthwhile. If you're looking for a great little family movie, 'Paddington' is recommended.