11 November 2015

Paddington And The Problem With Humanity

You can tell that Paddington is unrealistic because it features a foreign bear arriving in our country and nobody bats a single eye. If this had been set in the real world then he'd have arrived to find a load of pasty-faced fuck-ups looking for somebody to blame their own shitty lives on, and demanding to “send that bastard bear back!” The film presents a world in which we not only accept the existence of a talking animal but rather more unbelievably, it's also one in which we only treat an immigrant with mild irritation instead of an uneducated and twat-like contempt. The story begins when a bear named Paddington is forced to flee his native land due to it having been fucked into pieces by a natural disaster. The little scamp manages to find his way to London where he's taken in by a family that kindly decide to help him track down an explorer that encountered his species many years previously. The mother takes Paddington in due to her kindness, the father wants to get rid of him as soon as possible, the teenage daughter is completely indifferent, and the youngest son just loves him. Had this been real life then the plight of Paddington and his flee from the darkest Peru would only have garnered a modicum of sympathy had he arrived face down and dead on a beach.

Of course this is the big screen adaptation of a character that has been in the British consciousness for years. Originally written as a children's story by author Michael Bond in 1958, Paddington was inspired by both the image of a lone teddy sitting on a shop shelf and the memory of children being evacuated during the second world war. This obviously explains Paddington's shared iconography with the evacuees, as both were left at a train-station with nothing but a tatty suitcase, a name tag around their necks, and a need for somebody (who preferably wasn't a pedophile) to take them in. Both Paddington and the children even share a short stature and timidness that gives them both a sense of vulnerability as they find themselves lost and alone in a scary new world. Although, seems as Paddington also has both a furry face and a wild animalistic appearance, I guess he's more like a child that's been evacuated from Birmingham. Considering kids don't seem that into teddies these days, I have no idea what children's authors are going to use for inspirations now. Overly violent video games, cigarettes, and teenage pregnancy I suppose. However, books aside, most people probably know Paddington from the stop-motion TV adaptation that arrived on screen in the 1970's. In that version, the title character was a stuffed toy, set against a black and white, two dimensional background, with the humans appearing as coloured-in cardboard cutouts. A nostalgic adult would say that the show was “full of charm, love, and sentimentality” though a modern day and cynical youth would probably say “it looked like total shit”.

On that note, what's interesting is that the director of this film, Paul King, claims to have been a fan of the show and remembers watching when he himself was as a child. Since then he's done the traditional human 'thing' of turning into an adult, with two of his first major projects being the television series The Mighty Boosh and the film Bunny And The Bull. Like the 1970's version of Paddington, King's style seems to be that he maximizes a minute budget by infusing his work with a handcrafted vibe to create an artificial but completely charming world. This of course might make him the perfect director for this kind of project, with all of his previous work being pretty much completely cynicism free. Paddington is a cherished character and so people were justifiably worried when it was announced that he'd be making his journey to the big-screen. Generally when British TV shows get a cinematic adaptation it involves the characters going on holiday to Spain with the intent of going on a balls-deep adventure of the local women's exotic bush. Of course the budget for this film is the largest that director King has worked with so far, however although he's no longer confined to the aesthetics of a cheap looking set, he still manages to fill every frame with a loving sense of his trade-mark charm. As a result, Paddington manages to buck the trend in two aspects- it doesn't involve sending the furry fucker away for a siesta and a shag, and it's also actually fucking brilliant.

Unless you're into fat hairy men who like to bum each other then I'd say that both Paddington and Grizzly Man are my two favourite films about bears. Interestingly, the two seem to share something thematically.. or at the very least I seem to be interpreting them both to fit in with my own existential hatred of life. Grizzly Man is a documentary about Timothy Treadwell, a man who filmed himself living with his 'friends' (humongous bears) before one decided that it'd had enough of his hippy bullshit and promptly, literally, bit his head off. Director Werner Herzog uses the footage of Treadwell's naive optimism to emphasise the grim reality of existence by contrasting the subject's Disney-like view of the world with the fact that he ended up being chewed up and shat out of a bear's anus. What Paddington does is show an idealised version of London that's still recognisable as the real thing but also so much better than it really is. There's one scene for example in which Paddington meets one of the Queen's Royal Guards who helps the bear to shelter from the rain before offering him a flask of tea which is hidden in that tall, furry, ridiculous hat. As a scene, it works perfectly by simply being funny and also playing up to the cliched image of what an outsider might assume it is to be British. However to contrast it with the reality, one of the many fucking disgraces of our royal dictatorship is that the material that they insist on making the guards' hats out of is sadly the fur of slaughtered bears. In real life, watching Paddington seek shelter with one of those guards would be a lot more like seeing a human seek shelter at Leatherface's house whilst trying not to ask what him his fucking mask is made out of.

Where the film really shows the difference between its version of our world and the real thing however is in its treatment of immigrants. As with the source material, Paddington obviously invokes the previously mentioned image of our evacuees, however the film also prominently features a band of street performers whose style of music, age, and colour, seem to reference the post-war immigration of the 1960's. Right now our shit stain of a planet seems to be facing a crisis as some poor fuckers from Syria are fleeing the prospect of certain death in their own country in the hope of finding a patch of land that they might eventually be safe in. Sadly, we humans are nothing more than the fleshy personification of the phrase “selfish cunts”, and so have treated these desperate people with the contempt and rejection that they really don't need. I mean they're fucking drowning and dying to escape their misery and we're treating them like fucking criminals. They're fleeing for their lives but the public talk about them as though the public just woke up to find them dressed as burglars, stuffing mother's diamond necklace into their pockets and fisting the family dog. Like all of the best family films though, Paddington has a message brimming below its surface. Maybe the world would be a better place if we stopped worrying about ourselves and started looking after each other. I mean, it just proves how fucking depressing our species is when a film about a talking fucking bear has more humanity in it than the average fucking human.

However, good intentions and admirable moral undercurrents aside, that would all mean diddly-shit if they got the bear wrong. Kind of how X-Men: First Class was doing quite well until Beast turned into his more monstrous guise and ruined everything by looking like somebody had raped the Honey Monster to death and dumped the body in a lake. Well, as you can probably tell by the fact that I've gushed all the way up until this point, Paddington is perfect. The animation is spot-on and as a living, sentient creature, I found him to be more believable than the real-life Mickey Rourke. However where the movie really excels is in his personality which, like the film itself, is a perfect balance of curiosity, naivety, and wisdom. In fact, all of the cast are absolutely perfect here, with each member fully committing themselves to the tone of the film. I've never really been a fan of Nicole Kidman due to her impenetrably icy exterior and the fact that she's played most of her roles in the style of an Ikea flatpack, however having seen her in both this and Stoker, I have to say that she does play villains rather well. Here she wants to stuff Paddington and mount him on the wall- in Stoker, Uncle Charlie wanted to stuff her and mount her on the bed. Both circumstances are almost too terrible to consider.

However, although Kidman worked well as the primary villain, I would argue that this element of the film was my least favourite. I loved all of the main characters so much that I'd have been genuinely happy for the whole thing to have simply focused on Paddington acclimatising to our country and causing various mishaps in the process. In terms of the idealised version of London and even family dynamics, Paddington is mildly reminiscent of Mary Poppins. To include the Nicole Kidman story in this film is a bit like if there was a sub-plot in Poppins in which Mary has to escape from Burt after he nips to the pub and comes back feeling a little rapey... or something. Although having said that, I think it's a testament to how truly brilliant that this film is that it can be mentioned in the same breath as Mary Poppins and not crumble by comparison. As far as family films go, that Super-Nanny classic is the Rowdy Roddy Piper of them all, and is usually more than capable of metaphorically battering its competition into submission in an alleyway. Like Mary Poppins, Paddington also suggests that his presence might even have a positive impact on those around him, which again adds to its message of showing kindness to strangers. To some people a stranger is just a friend you haven't met. To me, a stranger is somebody that I can't be fucked getting to know, however that doesn't mean that I want them washing up dead on our beaches like a fucking sea-shell... as it turns out, neither does Paddington. Thanks for reading motherfuckers, and see you next time!

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