An anthropomorphic, marmalade-loving, talking bear—no one seems to be surprised by this—from “Darkest Peru” detrains after a long journey in the title London railroad station, alone and friendless. He’s reluctantly given shelter, along with his iconic duffle coat and hat, by the Brown family (Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins). Not all the neighbors are happy about this, and the film features a little subplot on the sociopolitical views of the citizenry, pro and con, toward immigrants. There’s a nice underlying message of tolerance and acceptance.
Ben Whishaw ably does the wee bear’s voice, and Nicole Kidman has fun as the villainess, a taxidermist, of course. Director Paul King’s mostly live-action, easygoing take on the children’s classic by Michael Bond is rich in incidental detail, wordplay, visual puns, and even Rube Goldberg concoctions, all delivered in an attitude of genial fun. A dollhouse that transforms into a cutaway set is only one of the film’s imaginative framing devices. The plot machinations are musically explained by a Greek chorus that looks a lot like a wandering calypso band.
Make no mistake: this is a kid flick, but so well done as to be hugely entertaining for parents. I think what lifts this sentimental but never artificial film above the usual cynical, effects-laden bombs aimed at children is its sheer modesty. The SFX used here get the job done, and delightfully; they are not the main attraction. This film respects your children. Bear hug. (95 min)