A young, lost and lonely bear a long way from his home in ‘darkest Peru’ sits on his suitcase on a deserted platform at Paddington Station. He has a label saying ‘Please look after this bear, thank you’, but has been unable to find anyone among the rush hour commuters who even notices him, let alone cares for him. This wasn’t the London he was expecting, and he debates whether to eat the marmalade sandwich he keeps in his hat ‘in case of emergencies’ or not. Just then the Brown family walk past him, Mr Brown urging his children to ignore him. This sets the stage for an entertaining film which is likely to be the biggest movie of the Christmas holiday season.
The film manages to capture the charm of the books by Michael Bond (which began in 1958), yet also brings the stories right up to date in modern London – even touching upon current political hot-potato issues of globalisation and immigration. The CGI is so well done you never once question the interaction of a talking bear with the Brown family, and there are plenty of inventive visual flourishes from the director. Ultimately though it is a film about endearing characters, with a very British tone (like Wallace and Gromit) and plenty of wit and slapstick humour for young and old alike.
A couple of themes jump out as worth discussing as a family and with others after seeing Paddington. First, the film causes us to reflect upon the true nature and cost of the biblical call to show ‘hospitality to strangers’ (Heb 13:2), yet also what a powerful witness that is in a cold, harsh, busy world. The film deals with characters having many good reasons for shying away from helping the helpless and showing love to the outcast, including busyness, xenophobia, even their care for their own family. But by showing hospitality in caring for an orphaned stranger, his life (and the lives of others around him) is transformed. I wasn’t expecting a story about a bear in a duffle-coat to challenge me about how outward looking I am (or our church is) in welcoming and caring for strangers!
A second theme of the film resonates with the gospel. Paddington is driven by a longing for a home, a family, a love that he thinks will be fulfilled in London. In many ways London is a character in the film, portrayed beautifully, yet the reality of London is unable to meet these longings. So where does the movie point us for the fulfilment? Adoption: an outcast being loved and brought in to the family, adopted and embraced by their love, even at sacrificial cost. The message of the gospel is that this human longing is ultimately, only fulfilled in God himself. At the greatest sacrificial cost to himself Jesus came into this world, not only so that our sins can be forgiven, but to redeem us so that we can be adopted into his family; that through the Son we can become sons of God, and God the Father can become our Father (Gal 4:4ff). In the movie the father of the family is the most reluctant to receive Paddington into the family. In the gospel the Father is not reluctant, but even while we are a great way off he sees us, in love willingly sends his Son to save us, and in his compassion runs, embraces us and brings us into the family.
Paddington is rated PG for some mild bear peril and a couple of jokes some might find questionable.