Hitting theaters at the end of 2014 in Europe and the beginning of 2015 in the United States, the film adaptation of Michael Bond’s children’s classic “Paddington” book series was a hit with viewers of all ages and a critical smash. While the film’s humor, heart, and wit made it a perfect example of how to update a classic tale in the best way possible, it’s the message at the center of the film that makes it not only an instant classic, but a film that is timelier than ever.
That’s because at its heart, Paddington is a tale about immigration and the love that needs to be shown to those in search of a new home in a strange land. Whether it’s to be used to teach the younger generations about the love we all need to show to those seeking support in a new country or providing a reminder to adults concerning what is truly important in these difficult times, there are beautiful and heart-warming lessons to be learned from a little bear from Darkest Peru looking for a new home and family in London.
Please Look After This Bear
Who could ever look at a sweet and lovable little bear like Paddington and not care for him immediately? The simply and heartbreaking answer is when he is an illegal immigrant. Thousands upon thousands of people classified as illegal immigrants are simply searching for a new home free of poverty, violence, and much more. However, we often obscure the love and respect that we need to show for the sake of our own money, politics, and other issues that should be far less important.
Like the beginning of author Michael Bond’s first novel, “A Bear Called Paddington,” the young Peruvian bear arrives at London’s Paddington Station with a note hanging from his neck inscribed with the simple and heartfelt plea – “Please look after this bear. Thank you.” The note was written by his Aunt Lucy, who thought that upon seeing the young bear, Londoners would show loving kindness and bring him into a new family. While the message does get The Brown Family to stop and help, it’s the open heart of Mrs. Brown that allows Paddington into their home despite Mr. Brown’s begrudging reservations.
It’s in The Brown Family that we see the two sides at odds with one another in immigration issues the world over. Mrs. Brown sees a young Peruvian bear with nowhere to go and a reliance on the kindness of strangers to be safe. In return, she opens her house to help him until he finds a permanent home. Mr. Brown sees a stranger with a random sad backstory that may be a lie who may endanger his wife and two children should he enter their home. In return, he is distant and seeks to get him somewhere else as soon as possible, wherever that may be. While Mr. Brown isn’t inherently wrong with his concerns, it’s when these ideas become the default mindset of people everywhere that immigrants in need of the love that comes from shared humanity needlessly suffer. Given enough time to understand Paddington, each of the family members’ hearts melt at their own given pace.
At the core of Paddington, viewers are called again and again to a simple but needed lesson – treating immigrants with kindness and love is not only the right thing to do, anything less is less than human. Like the most valuable stories, this idea is translated into something fictional so that viewers can let the message in deeper than they would normally.
London is the Place for Me
The most heart wrenching aspect within the immigration tale at the center of Paddington is the lead character’s search for a place called home. Writer and director Paul King’s film almost immediately establishes the fact that Paddington, his Aunt Lucy, and Uncle Pastuzo are happy and safe in Peru, where they live in a bright and crazy tree house making marmalade. Yes, they dream of one day visiting the fabled land called London due to their friendship with the British explorer that once visited them, but there is no actual need to leave their home.
But all of that is suddenly and violently ripped away by a devastating earthquake that destroys their tree house and ends the life of Uncle Pastuzo. Left without her husband and her home, the elderly Aunt Lucy simply cannot take care of Paddington anymore. There’s nothing innately wrong with Peru, much like there is often not anything innately wrong with the countries scores of immigrants are leaving today, but brutal and uncontrollable circumstances have made these places unlivable.
Like many immigrants of both years past and today, Paddington believes that London will be everything he hoped and dreamed it would be, but is soon met with a much harsher reality. While placing him as a stowaway on a boat headed to London, his Aunt Lucy says “Long ago, people in England sent their children by train with labels around their necks, so they could be taken care of by complete strangers in the countryside where it was safe. They will not have forgotten how to treat strangers.” Juxtaposed with the way Paddington is immediately snubbed by every passing stranger at the Paddington Train Station, it is clear that things have drastically changed in the U.K. But it’s not just England at fault, it’s every country who once opened their arms to those in search of a new home and now turn their backs on immigrants desperate for a safe place to live.
One of the most heartfelt and human moments in the entire film comes in a scene without words. Having discovered the hidden film of the explorer that visited his aunt and uncle, Paddington and The Browns see footage of the young bear’s old home. In a moment of metaphorical magic, Paddington walks through the black and white screen and into the vividly colorful world of Darkest Peru, where his far off aunt and uncle greet him. No words are needed to convey the raw emotion on display, just sheer visual storytelling genius. Still searching for his place in a strange city, Paddington longs for his happy life in Peru, which he will never be able to get back. Even when London has become his new home and The Browns made into his new family, Peru and his aunt and uncle still have an unmovable place in his heart.
Paddington also finds relatability in the kindly Mr. Gruber, who is also an immigrant in London, having arrived as a young boy. When the young bear asks him how he found a home, he says, “A home is more than a roof over your head. My body had travelled very fast, but my heart, she took a little longer to arrive.”
Opposed to the difficulty in transitioning to a new country is how well Paddington actually fits into London. While he has a steep learning curve to overcome upon arrival that frequently results in chaos, the magical realism of the film adds layers to the immigration ideas on display. In Paddington, no one seems to have a shocked reaction at seeing a walking and talking bear roaming the streets. Some may view him as out of place or not quite know what to do with him, but he’s not met with stares or gasps. This slight out-of-place quality gives credence to the issues being tackled. Yes, Paddington feels like he doesn’t belong at times and his strange actions may perturb others, but his existence within London does not need to be justified. However, he is met by the xenophobic Mr. Curry and the hostile Milicent, who uses the fear of outsiders to get Mr. Curry to stop being only rude and start plotting against the poor bear.
When these issues are put to an end, either temporarily within the course of the story or permanently by its end, the magic and wonder of London opens itself up to Paddington. It’s in these moments that England takes its place as the new home of the little bear and real happiness floods in unabated.
He is Family
While half of Paddington’s immigration quest deals with him finding a place in a new country, the other, more crucial, half focuses on finding a new family. Without the love and acceptance of The Brown Family, Paddington will not be able to find a place in London.
The truly uplifting aspect is that it isn’t just Paddington’s life that is being made better by being accepted, it’s everyone’s lives that are improved by Paddington. By accepting him as family, they each learn to accept the differences in one another and within themselves. Just as importantly, there is no need for Paddington to change who he is at his core in order to fit in with The Browns or London as a whole. He has innate worth and his differences bring something special to his surroundings. Having people who believe in him and recognize that worth allow him to more fully express that. As with many real life circumstances, overwhelming sadness can keep us from fulfilling our true potential, but real joy encourages us to embrace the best parts of ourselves and accept who we are as people. A loving and supportive family is the key to every person’s healthy and happy development.
It’s all summed up beautifully in the very last scene as Paddington, now a permanent member of the family and settling into his life in London, writes to his Aunt Lucy to share the good news with her.
“Mrs. Brown says that in London, everyone is different. But that means everyone can fit in. I think she must be right, because although I don’t look like anyone else, I really do feel at home. I will never be like other people, but that’s alright. Because I’m a bear, a bear called Paddington.”
It may be a simple story with many silly moments, but Paddington accomplishes telling its moral in spectacular fashion and in a way that many far more serious and heavy handed films often falter at completing. The idea that home can be anywhere in the world, as long as people open up their hearts and countries to those in need of loving kindness, is something that needs to be understood far more than ever. In the end, a lovable and smart little bear from Peru can show generations what is really important in the world.