‘Paddington’ Is This Holiday Season’s #1 Film About Xenophobia
Keep Calm and Paddingt On.
It seems like another arbitrary remake of an antiquated children’s franchise, but Paddington is one of the most thought-provoking films of 2014’s mainstream. The heart-warming story of London’s beloved homeless bear, this latest version offers a quiet commentary on race relations, social acceptance and Western society’s not-so-secret xenophobia. With a wry script, deft direction and wonderfully understated performances, Paddington teaches lessons some viewers mightn’t even notice.
Disappointing sequels, re-makes and re-boots too often dominate the cinematic landscape. This family-friendly film stands out by using nostalgia to comment on our current cultural climate. Screenwriter Hamish McColl draws on a plethora of plots from Michael Bond’s Paddington Bear books, first published in the 1950s, to craft a contemporary-set story.
Paddington arrives in London with a label round his neck, reminiscent of child evacuees fleeing the city during World War II. When stiff-upper-lipped Mr. Brown first encounters Paddington, he’s skeptical of P-Diddy’s origin story. Brown hurries his family away from the vagrant with the same real-world suspicions we save for someone sleeping rough, who claims to just want to buy a bus ticket.
At the same time, the film often refers back to 1950s and ‘60s ideas about race. When A Bear Called Paddington first hit bookshelves, England was experiencing an influx of West Indian immigrants. The values of many an average Anglo at the time (and it’s fair to say, still today) are exemplified in Paddington by Mr. Reginald Curry, played by Peter Capaldi. His distaste for “jungle music” and his “It starts with just one, then you’ve got their whole family turning up” diatribe are the usual suspects of a racist lexicon.
One of the loveliest elements of Paddington is the absolute sincerity the revered cast brings to what is ostensibly a film about an anthropomorphised Peruvian bear just making his way in the world while nursing a crippling marmalade addiction. Paul King (The Mighty Boosh, Bunny and the Bull) is the perfect director for this project. Mixing two parts childlike wonder with one part progressive grown-up laughs, King never patronises or underestimates the audience; unlike – yeah, I’ll say it – most American family fare.
Great stylistic choices like vintage-inspired costume and set designs amplify that wistful feel, without going full Wes Anderson. The aforementioned “jungle music” makes intermittent appearances by way of calypso band D Lime dropping sweet Caribbean jams. Many tunes featured were written by the likes of Trinidad’s Lord Kitchener, who achieved artistic success in London after immigrating in the ‘50s – just as old mate Paddy did. Calypso music written in England at this time often related the experience of adapting to a new way of life, and all the challenges associated.
There’s even a wee nod to Julien Temple’s rock musical Absolute Beginners, which remembers the Notting Hill race riots fought between the white working-class and newly arrived Caribbean immigrants in ‘58. King pays homage to his forebear with Paddington’s repeated split dollhouse motif:
Despite what I or that terrifying meme may suggest, Paddington is a (white, nuclear) family film. The racial tolerance message isn’t exactly front-centre. Noted, I’m an overly sensitive, bleeding heart, lefty pinko tree-hugger, but the multicultural undertones are there, giving us a hard stare behind sardonic British humour and jolly-good-show-old-chap affectations.
It’s a pleasant surprise to see a family film proliferate a powerful message like this. I always think it’s best to get in early and set a positive example for kids, before their grandparents and the Government teach them how to be racist. If you have 100% authorised access to a child, take them to Paddington. If you don’t, take yourself, or your least hated “I’m not racist, but…”-spouting acquaintance. Keep Calm and Paddingt On.
Aimee’s words have appeared in The Adelaide Review, Rip It Up, Lip Magazine and more. After playing guitar on stage with Bruce Springsteen, her life’s all downhill from here. Follow her demise@aimeeknightout
Images courtesy Paddington.Com.