Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Paddington Adoption Movie Review (Paddington Reminds Me of a Lot of Adoption Movies)

When a young bear’s aunt decides that she is too old to care for him, she tells him of older days, when kids would wait at train stations to find new families, and suggests that he could do the same thing today. She places a note around his neck saying “Please look after this bear,” and then sends him on a boat journey from Peru to London. The bear arrives at Paddington Station in London and begins asking passersby to be his family; he is ignored. Alone and dejected, the bear is noticed by the Brown family who give him the name Paddington, and offer him at least one night of lodging in their home.

They then try to help Paddington find a family, and the best idea they have is to find a local explorer who had long ago visited Paddington’s family of talking bears in Peru. Their search is complicated, however, when a local taxidermist decides that she wants to get her own hands on Paddington.

How Does This Connect to Adoption?
Very early in the film, Paddington’s aunt tells of a time when “children were left at railway stations with tags around their neck,” and picked up by parents who “cared for them as their own.” She tells Paddington that Londoners “will not have forgotten how to care.”

Some kids may resonate powerfully with Paddington’s feelings of hopelessness as he tries unsuccessfully to find a family. As he introduces himself to the Brown family, Paddington says, “How do you do? I’m just looking for a home.” Mrs. Brown asks where his parents are, and Paddington explains that they died years ago, and that all he has left is a retired aunt. Mrs. Brown wants to help, and does so over the objections of her husband, who says that Paddington’s plight “is not our responsibility.”

Paddington’s bear-language name is a series of ursine growls that is hard for English speakers to pronounce, so they give him an English name – although they do ask his permission first.

The family explains to Paddington, “When a young person comes to this country in a boat, you don’t go with the first family you’re with. You find a guardian – an adult who looks after you.” Paddington lights up, saying “Like you!” To which they reply, “Yes, but not us. It’s usually someone you know” and suggests that if there isn’t anyone you know, you go to an orphanage.

Paddington tries to find a former family friend to live with, but when he goes to find the records that would lead him to this person, he finds that the records are withheld from him. Many adult adoptees will resonate painfully with this scene.

People adopted internationally might resonate with Paddington’s struggle to fit into his new culture. Although he ultimately feels comfortable, along the way he acknowledges, “It’s not easy being in a new place.”

Many foster families believe that their foster kids lie. The Brown family believes this about Paddington when his stories seem unbelievable, but later we learn that his stories are true, but filtered through his point of view.

Strong Points
The Brown family comes to love Paddington. One character expresses, “It doesn’t matter that he’s from the other side of the world. We love him, so he’s family, and that means we stick together.”

Paddington optimistically realizes, “In London, everyone is different, but that means anyone can fit in. I don’t look like anyone else, but that’s OK because I’m a bear – a bear named Paddington.” This could be an encouraging message for people who were adopted across national boundaries.

It’s easy to see this film as a picture of international adoption, but I also see glimpses of the best parts of foster care adoption. *Spoiler Alert* Mrs. Brown ultimately does become an adoptive mom to Paddington, but along the way is trying to help him reunify with people who know and love him. *End Spoiler* Mrs. Brown tells him, “I’m not standing by while there’s a chance of finding you a proper home.”

Paddington expresses “A home is more than a roof over your head.”

When the family refers to an orphanage, an image flashes on the screen of a ghastly looking place. This probably does match the feelings that many have towards orphanages, but might scare some

Weak Points

The Browns mistakenly believe that Paddington is a liar. He overhears a conversation where they say, “He won’t tell us the truth. How can he live with us if we can’t even trust him. Maybe this isn’t the place for him.” Hearing this breaks Paddington’s heart. He gathers his belongings and runs away, leaving a goodbye note. After he runs away, he walks through the cold, rainy London streets knocking on any doors that might belong to the explorer that once knew his family; Paddington is very persistent, but his persistence isn’t rewarded.

As one of Adoption at the Movies' readers on Facebook commented, when Paddington breaks the Brown family's rules, their first inclination is for him to leave the home.

Paddington's life is threatened - and he is nearly killed - by a crazed museum employee.

This is a charming film that could be helpful for families who have adopted internationally or through foster care. It’s optimistic about successfully forming a family, while honest in depicting the difficulty in doing so, and the feelings of loneliness and “not fitting in” that might be common in situations where a young person is far from their family and place of origin.

Paddington reminded me of several other recent movies. You can click the titles to link to my reviews of each, if you like! As in Mr. Peabody and Sherman, it’s the story of a cross-species adoption. Like Despicable Me, orphanages are seen as scary places. Like Anne of Green Gables with the Cuthberts, Paddington’s relationship with the Browns starts as an almost-accidental one-night visit. Like in the documentary Closure, the records that would be most helpful to Paddington are sealed and unavailable to him, but he still finds a way to find the information he needs.  Like in the Martian Child, Paddington fears rejection, and tries to avoid it by preemptively running away. Like in Lilo and Stitch, a character says, basically, that family means “we stick together.”

There are some frightening sequences (The taxidermist does try to tranquilize, stuff, and preserve Paddington), and some of Paddington’s emotional pain might resonate strongly with some viewers who have waited a long time for a family to call their own or who have experienced rejection from foster families or other trusted adults. One villain suggests that Paddington can’t be family with the Browns because they are different species; but the family itself has become a positive, safe, and loving place for Paddington. Parents can talk through this points with their children. Overall, the film seems to be optimistic, honest, and fun. I’d suggest it as a good choice for most kids ages 8 and up, with parents present to answer questions.

Questions for After the Film

What makes it hard to be in a new place?

What eventually helped Paddington feel at home?

Mr. Brown said that family means sticking together. What do you think family means?


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  2. Any chance you will have a review soon for Paddington 2? Wanted to bring a group of adopted children to this movie, but wondered what you thought?

    1. Hi Joanna! Thanks for the request. I did watch the film, and hope to have a review up soon. There’s definitely trigger potential (spoiler alert..........,) he gets separated from his adoptive family and taken to prison; he comes to believe that they have forgotten about him when they miss a visit.


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