Paddington (2014): A Bear Humanizing Immigration and Dehumanizing Taxidermy

Baddington having some trouble.

Paddington!

I saw Paddington, and it was adorable.  All of the characters were a lot of fun and followed the classic characterization method of children’s books.  They each had their two or three major characteristics and follows through on them beautifully.  Everyone learned about family and friendship while going through some hilarious hijinks. For those of you who loved the books as children, I do not know how accurate this is to book, but, as with most things, I maintain that it does not really matter.  It is a cute movie and a lot of fun.

There are some bigger messages you can take from the movie, if you wish.  First, it is important to note that Paddington (his original bear name is, I believe, impossible to spell in English) is an illegal immigrant.  He literally arrives to England in a life boat that he stowed away in for however long it takes to get to England from Peru.  They make a pretty blatant reference to an “undesirable” community taking over when the villain/taxidermist is talking to Mr. Curry (played by the latest Doctor) about the bear threat.

Paddington’s story shows, in an easily lovable cuddly bear package, that each not-so-legal immigration likely comes with a sympathetic background.  Paddington is looking for a home where he can be safe and happy, and England had been held up as an example of that his whole life.  My specialty in research was never immigration or immigrant communities, but I know enough to know that this view of an immigrant’s new country is not uncommon.  It may be true or it may be a grass-is-always-greener situation, but it is still a present idea.  And, as I am sure happens with many immigrants, Paddington’s ideas of his new home are not matched by reality. And, much like any immigrant group, Paddington brings over one of his most important culture traditions –marmalade day!

While Paddington is humanizing immigration, his story is also making taxidermy seem absolutely monstrous.  Now, while I have suspicions about the immigration story being at least a tertiary goal, I do not think this taxidermy idea is anything but my own interpretation.  The taxidermist spends the moving trying to track down, capture, murder and put on display a talking bear, and, at one point, threatens to stuff his new, human family.  Her character does not paint taxidermy in a positive light.

Even her office, especially when combined with her unsavory character, sets up a negative idea of taxidermy.  It is overflowing with animals on display and there is clearly no purpose to it other than decor and/or vanity.  Perhaps they are the displays that do not have a place yet, but the fact that the office is designed so that the heads of the animals are in her main office while the rest of their bodies hang grotesquely in her secret, murder room implies that, even if they are for eventual education display, she views them as something else.

I will admit that my views on taxidermy are not shocking to anyone.  However, they are far more closely linked to my discomfort with mummies in museums than my desire not to eat a hamburger.  I have never been comfortable with the display of any corpse whose inhabitant had not signed off on prior to death.  It has always seemed grossly disrespectful (and, I will admit, just asking for ghosts).  So, my reaction to this display is likely biased.  However, I think it is likely that children with have a similar reaction and learn a similar distaste for taxidermy.  Children are already primed for seeing animals as more intelligent than they are (anthropomorphized animals is one of the most common tropes in children entertainment) and everyone has heard stories of children swearing off of meat for a time after learning where beef comes from.  With taxidermy, though, their distaste does not have to battle against delicious.

In the end, my concern is rarely with what the creators intend the viewer to take away from a story.  It is about, much  like we all learn to do in English class, examining what is presented.  What I see is that Paddington is a heartwarming immigration story for children that will terrify those same children away from taxidermy.  How about you?

Paddington being cute.

Paddington!

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About Tori

I am a graduate student working on my masters in Women and Gender studies. My masters thesis is on the gender nonconformity and ambiguity in modern film.
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