While never quite resembling the quiet hug of the books it's based on, Paul King's Paddington is far from the noisome Penguins of Madagascar experience. A smartly bobbed Nicole Kidman plays a Cruella de Vil–type villain, eager to stuff the film's talking orphan bear, and there are chases and home-destroying comic set pieces, the best of which involves a torrent of bathwater and suggests both A Night at the Opera and The Shining. But if the scale of the occasional mayhem is heightened, its spirit and ingenuity doesn't feel wholly at odds with the books, either: There's just enough Hollywood hurly-burly here to make this qualify as a 2015 studio release for kids — and just enough last-century picture-book gentleness to make it feel separate from our time.
What's most edifying is all the live-action playfulness: a witty script, precisely mad performances, production design that's part Wes Anderson dollhouse and part educational toy store. King's cast is appealingly dotty, especially Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville as a mom and dad who take in the bear they discover stranded at Paddington Station. The father is a safety-minded actuary who spouts statistics that are just plain crackers: "Thirty-four percent of pre-breakfast accidents involve banisters!" Mom's a ragamuffin illustrator with eyes as wide and arresting as any computer-generated critter's. Better still: the smile that's always just unloosening itself. Kidman's also a crackpot pleasure, giving poisonous bite to King's best lines, like the there-goes-the-neighborhood speech where she insists the new bear in town is just the first of a migrant horde that will corrupt the great city with "raucous, all-night picnics." (And her clothes are divine: Think Teddy Roosevelt as an SS Girl Scout.)