I didn’t want to see the recent Paddington movie until I read the description and found out that Paddington is from Peru. This being the original homeland of the Guinea Pig, I was eager to see if there may be some cameo Cavy appearances in the film. To that end I was disappointed, however Paddington exceeded my expectations in a few other ways.
First off, the film makes good use of humor. Not mindnumbing slapstick often reserved for family movies, but actual witty exchanges. There is an actual story line as well, and because I want you to see it I will do my best to avoid spoilers.
My favorite element in this movie, is its clear anti-speciesist message. This is something popular movies only attempt once in a great while and then typically on tiptoes.
Of course there are a few exceptions. You remember watching Bambi as a kid, and realizing for the first time that mankind’s relationship with animals sometimes strays from the lovey-dovey-tree-huggy relationship you had with your family’s cat or dog, or your stuffed toys? Left an impression, didn’t it?
But time heals all wounds and we easily forgot that inconvenient truth.
Luckily Babe came along to teach kids the truth about Bacon. Yet somehow even the heartwarming story of the little pig who saves the day didn’t quite permeate popular culture for long.
Perhaps in some ways it fed in to the concept that small humane family farms are the rule rather than the exception. Imagine the millenium remake of this movie, “Babe, the Monsanto Years”?
So here is Paddington, a cute, cuddly, articulate Bear who travels to London seeking a new home and is confronted not only with the attitudes that exemplify humanity’s beliefs about animals, but about all that is “foreign” in general. A family with an excessively large home claims they can not accommodate a long term visitor, for example.
The warm and loving if not a little xenophobic Brown family is juxtaposed, of course, with the villain. Millicent, the exploitative sociopath who sees both human and nonhuman animals as pawns in her quest to satisfy her ego an status (not unlike real life sociopaths). While this character is easy to dislike, reminiscent of recent media attention to Big Game Trophy Hunters for example, she is a representation of an attitude that exists, to some extent, within us all. This is where many viewers will lose the point. They will not see the commonplace institutionalized cruelty toward animals as a practice in which they partake or support. Just like they did not see themselves as the big bad hunters who shot Bambi’s mother….even as they eat popcorn laden with butter, produced out of a dairy farming industry whose practices are far crueler than the act of hunting…..
There is a redeeming moment however. A message I hope is heard loud and clear.
Mr. Brown, the human head of the family who found Paddington on his arrival in London makes a statement which I hope will be the new mantra for how we treat human and nonhuman animals in the 21st Century. A message about how closely connected we are in spite of our differences:
“It doesn’t matter that he comes from the other side of the world or that he’s a different species or that he has a worrying marmalade habit.We love Paddington. And that makes him family.”