A New Family Classic – “Paddington”

BLOG #3, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
A NEW FAMILY CLASSIC – PADDINGTON
January 21, 2015

The Wall Street Journal, January 18, 2015, D1

The Wall Street Journal, January 18, 2015, D1

Paddington is an oasis of relief in a media world that has clearly lost its ethical and moral moorings. Where in the world are parents going to find family fare in today’s miasma of bone-chilling violence, obscenity-laced humor, sexuality divorced from commitments, anti-God-and-country-agendas, and pornography rapidly gaining acceptance as a new norm? I pity the plight of parents today. And even when parents take their children to see one of those all-too-rare clean films, they fear the pre-film commercials so much many are deliberately walking in late so as to avoid imprinting those chilling or value-eroding images in their children’s brains.

It used to be the parents had many choices in terms of which films they’d take their children to see. No more. Hollywood appears to have all but written off all but its R-rated films. And even Paddington was born in England rather than in Hollywood.

As for reviewers, it has almost become a given that when a G-rated family film does come along, at best film critics damn it with faint praise or scoff at its family values. This is why it was such a shock to read Guy Lodge’s Variety review, “Cinematic update of the lovable literary bear ‘Paddington’ adds action but keeps his spirit” (Denver Post, January 10, 2015), and Joe Morgenstern’s “A Bear to Care About: Paddington Delights” (Wall Street Journal, January 16, 2015): For both were unabashedly positive about the film–no negatives whatsoever!

Morgenstern’s review begins with this sentence: “When you watch a movie that was made mainly for kids and find yourself enjoying it more than most adult fare, at least two explanations suggest themselves: 1. ‘You’re going soft in the head and reverting to childhood pleasures, or 2. The movie is really special.”

Guy Lodge’s review begins with “No bears were harmed in the making of this film,” boast the closing credits of ‘Paddington’ – and happily that promise extends to Michael Bond’s ursine literary creation. Fifty-six years after first appearing in print, the accident-prone Peruvian furball is brought to high tech but thoroughly endearing life in this bright, breezy and oh-so-
British family romp from writer-director Paul King and super-producer David Heyman.” Nor should we forget the prologue set in Peru, (filmed in black and white) and voiced by Michael Gambon and Imelda Staunton.

Technically, the film blew me away with its seamless portrayal of real people on real location and computer animation. I couldn’t tell where reality ended and digital began! Of course, given that David Heyman cut his teeth on the Harry Potter films, (more recently, Gravity), that technical miracle ought not to surprise anyone.

The Denver Post, January 16, 2015, 6C

The Denver Post, January 16, 2015, 6C

As for my wife and me, we were just enraptured by the story itself. I will admit it took us a little while to get used to the father of the host family, Hugh Bonneville in that role, since we were so used to his dominating presence as the Earl in the Downton Abbey BBC miniseries. Totally unexpected was his metamorphosis from staid stereotypical stiff-upper-lip, don’t-mess-with-tradition, do-it-my-way-because-I-said-so, unromantic father at the beginning, to the young at heart romantic who dares the near impossible to save Paddington, passionately kisses his stunned wife, and vicariously becomes a boy again in order to enter his son’s life for the very first time. His wife, wonderfully played by Sally Hawkins; and children, engagingly played by Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin, are so natural in this most improbable willing suspension of disbelief (accepting as fact a human-acting, talking, and thinking bear), that we accept it all as real-life.

But none of them compare to the miracle of “Paddington,” his endearing personality and ways. Originally, Colin Firth was chosen for the bear’s voice; wisely, Ben Whishaw replaced him, given that his voice was more boyish.

Nor can I forget the virago of the film, the taxidermist Millicent Clyde (Nicole Kidman) who serves as the Cruella de Vil in the heartstopping scenes when, a la 101 Dalmations, she chases and finally abducts Paddington and almost succeeds in stuffing him for a museum of natural history. Kidman outdoes herself in this most untypical cinematic role for her.

Believe me, so many families thronged the theater that they had to add a second theater to accommodate the crowds. As we listened to the crowd reactions, there were plenty of delighted adult voices to be heard. As for the children–they were ecstatic as they lived the film. Afterwards, leaving the theater, their joy was so great their feet barely touched the floor!

I am hereby making a prediction. Regardless of what awards the film does or does not get, it will go on to become one of the most beloved family films of all time. Not only that, but it is likely to become a series as Michael Bond’s other Paddington books get accessed as well.

The family–in truth, that’s what the film is really about–is really the heart of the film: In the final analysis, just what is a family?

THE GIRL WITH DANCING EYES

BLOG #46, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
THE GIRL WITH DANCING EYES

November 12, 2014

She would not have been unusual during my growing-up-years—but she is now. She was reading the Scripture text at church: clearly, each word perfectly enunciated, with deep feeling. And her eyes—they lit up the entire church. I literally could not take my eyes off of her.

After church, I spoke with her. I learned quite a bit about her upbringing, but learned little I had not already surmised. I complimented her on the sense of wonder radiating from her eyes—but really it was the parents who deserved the fuller credit for them. For it was they who have so far protected her from losing that God-given sense of wonder all babies are born with, but oh so few retain more than months.

So why, if her eyes are wonder-filled, do I label her “The Girl with Dancing Eyes”? This is why: When she was in church, her eyes were wonder-filled reverent eyes; but, one-on-one, outside of church—I was not a stranger to her (her family reads from my books)—, though the wonder remained in her eyes, there was a joyousness, tied to an entrancing addition of impishness, that was absolutely irresistible: the only word that adequately capsulizes the totality is “Dancing.”

But why is she not the norm among children her age? Reason being that many forces are at work that contribute to stripping that sense of wonder from the eyes of babies and children. Parents do it the very first time they permit the baby to be in the room when the television set is on. Studies have shown that babies are anything but unaware, picking up 60-70 percent of what is said and depicted on the screen. Parents all too often fail to realize how little it takes to quench that spark of vibrant life that brings the glow into the eyes. Parents—and how few parents are not guilty of this!—apparently don’t realize what they are doing when they say, “For goodness sake, stop bothering me with your questions—go watch TV!”

And precious little that appears on the television screen elevates the soul of those who watch it. And even if a program is values-worth-living-by-affirming, all too few of the million-plus commercials each of our children is exposed to during their growing-up years, are likely to increase the candle-power of those pure eyes they were born with.

But parents cannot take that sense of wonder for granted. It must be continually reinforced in the family story hour. For children do not internalize abstractions, but rather they internalize whatever values (uplifting or debasing) they hear or see in stories. Since few of the stories they experience on the media are compatible with the sense of wonder they were born with, wise parents realize that it doesn’t take more than seconds or minutes to blight—or even destroy completely—that glow. But if they are introduced to the right kind of stories (the ones they’ll ask for again and again), they will internalize those values. This is the reason Christ never spoke without stories: He created us to internalize them; to grow into them.

One danger, however, must be pointed out: It is all too easy for concerned parents to over-react. To be so over-protective and restrictive that their children either rebel or grow up to be narrow-minded, naive, and incapable of dealing with the complexities of adult life.

It is an awesome responsibility to raise a child.