The Beautiful Immigration Message at the Heart of “Paddington”

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.


7 thoughts on “The Beautiful Immigration Message at the Heart of “Paddington”

  1. Pingback: 10 More Movies That Made Me Cry – Crisis on Infinite Thoughts

  2. This is a nice written article. I understand the core of the movie of opening up your heart for the poor, less fortunate people in the world and give a home to immigrants who live in unlivable countries. And I recognize the good heart Paddington has and he has won me over after watching just 10 minutes of the movie. But how about this : not every immigrant has a good heart and some of them have bad intentions of going to other countries, not willing to work, leeching on others, harming others, really having bad intentions with the native people of the country where they are staying, being rude, etc…. How do you distinguisch between the good and the bad, because in Paddington, I only see goodness, he has a good heart and has good intentions with everybody. Unfortunatly that is not always the case in the real world. Can somebody please clarify? Thanks a lot, Nico


    1. Thank you for you well thought-out ideas and commentary on the article. While it’s true that not every person who comes into a country has good intentions, I don’t think it’s necessary for Paddington to illustrate every type of immigrant experience. First and foremost, Paddington is about coming to accept and love those who truly need a home and support. It’s an inspirational, feel-good tale that has a lot of parallels to modern immigration and it’s meant to put viewers in the shoes of Paddington in order to better understand the immigrant experience. Hopefully, people who are inspired by the movie can provide support to immigrants, but also be thoughtful and aware of the fact that not everyone is as kind-hearted and good as Paddington. The world is a lot more complex than the world of Paddington, but Paddington can illustrate the good things that can come from supporting immigrants when done in a thoughtful, realistic manner.


      1. Hi Matt,

        Thank you very much for your reply! I understand it better now. Indeed, love and acceptance for the needy. And yes, it’s a complex world. But I felt what you have just described: being in the shoes of Paddington, the immigrant. It was heartbreakening to see how Paddington left, leaving a note for the family that maybe the peace would return if he left, and see him walking through the heavy rain with his little coat, hat and his battered suitcase, looking for another home. One guard feeded him, the other one threw him out.

        I just watched the movie for the first time last saturday and I will certainly watch it again. Now, it’s already 3 days I feel like an emotional rollercoaster. I can’t think about anything else but Paddington and what he represents, for morning til evening. While there are certainly funny moments, esp. the bathtub scene, the core of the story is just heartbreaking. And it’s difficult to fight back the tears.

        I don’t want to consume your time Matt, but I just have 1 last question, if that is fine: Why everybody loves Paddington so much? The movie was just starting and I was already melting. I thought well about the movie and what I noticed was this : Paddington always stays calm and polite, he never returns bad words even when Mr Brown gave a angry sermon and called him a liar. He never raises his voice, never gets angry even when he is not treated good. He always stays soft spoken and kind. He never talks bad behind somebody’s back. Even when he left, he was still thankful to the Brown family for taking him in for a short while. He never said a bad word about anybody. So, I am wondering what is his personality really? Yesterday I spent the whole day on Google, trying to find information about his personality. I found a few things, like a heart of gold, good intentions. He is so warm hearted, that you just love him after a few minutes. I’m just wondering how to describe his personality? Nowadays, I think this doesn’t exist anymore, I never see a adult person like him. Nobody is like him. Or does Paddington represents the innocence, honesty and simplicity of a child? Anyway the movie refers to children, being brought away on trains with a tag around their neck, during the war.

        I recorded the movie and I will never erase it, The movie was a big lesson for me, afterwards I changed my mind about the needy immigrant.

        Thanks again for your great article,

        Best regards, Nico

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Nico, I love your response and the way the movie affected you! I have to say that this film affected me deeply, as well. I definitely think that Paddington is more of a child than an adult, but is also mature for his age. He’s very smart, but he’s also unaware of certain customs and rules, which leads to him getting into trouble. I’d also describe him as being very polite and courteous without being a pushover. In fact, I’d say Paddington has strong feelings about right and wrong, even though he’s forgiving of people.

      Also, the movie starts with Paddington and you see the tragedy that affects him when his home is destroyed and his uncle dies. Seeing something so terrible happen to someone as innocent as Paddington makes you immediately care about him, and you never stop caring about him for the entire movie. Some might call Paddington a victim of tragedy, but he never acts like a victim. He’s courageous and inspiring, but is very relatable.

      After seeing this film I read many of the Paddington books. Even though they are meant for children, they are very, very funny and smartly written. Just like in the film, Paddington is kind, courageous, funny, just, and always getting into trouble. He’s a fantastic character.

      I’m very much looking forward to the sequel, I believe it’s coming out at the end of this year!


  3. Hi Matt, thanks for your reply. Just like you, the movie affected me deeply as well, I think the first time in many years. Thanks for the additional information about his personality. Yes, it’s hard not to care for him from the very beginning of the movie. Thanks for the tip about the books. Will take a look. I also looked already where to buy the stuffed toy version from the movie. A sequel would be very nice.

    I think the movie can also serve as an example how to live our own lives. Not everything is about money, power, carreer and possessions. But to live a humble, just and sincere life and to care for the less fortunate among us. I think Paddington will be in my mind for a very, very long time.

    Best regards and thanks, Nico

    Liked by 1 person

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