I’m way behind. I watched director Paul King’s 2014 film ‘Paddington’ only a few weeks ago. Along with the beautiful production design, the film’s unabashed earnestness, and Paddington’s gentleness, I was struck at how the color red leapt off the screen as a thematic motif for kindness.
Paddington is trusting, anthropomorphic, talking bear from the jungles of ‘Darkest Peru’ who travels to London in search of a British explorer. The explorer, who encountered Paddington’s family in the jungle on a discovery expedition, gave his red hat to Paddington’s uncle bid the bears to visit him in London where they would receive a warm welcome. The British explorer’s red hat comes to Paddington after the death of his uncle, and throughout the film the color red becomes a symbol of kindness and its connection to the meaning of home.
The Brown Family in Red at the Train Station
Paddington’s only attire when he arrives in London is his battered red hat, complete with a marmalade sandwich underneath for emergencies. The red hat is an indication of Paddington’s trust in the kindness of strangers, and his faith that he will find a home.
When the Brown family (their surname also contributing to the theme of color) first encounter Paddington stranded and friendless at the train station, the amount of red in their costumes reflects the amount of inherent kindness they each possess towards strangers at the beginning of the film.
Mrs. Brown (Sally Hawkins) is an artist and the most open-hearted member of the family. She wears the most red — a cherry red coat and shoe — and is the first member of the Brown family to demonstrate kindness to Paddington. After many other travelers have passed Paddington by with a determination not to see him, Mrs. Brown shows concern at his bereft state and invites him to stay the night at their house. Mrs. Brown’s son wears a red vest, which foreshadows his embrace of Paddington into the family before his older, more cynical sister, who wears only a bit of red in the plaid pattern of her skirt.
Mr. Brown’s (Hugh Bonneville) first reaction when he first sees Paddington is to warn his family of ‘stranger danger’. Mr. Brown wears no red at all — he’s dressed in a grey suit with a cool blue scarf. His formal suit and lack of any warm colors is a visual clue that sets up Mr. Brown to experience the most change by the end of the film.
Red By Design
“I had to decide on one hat…I went for red because Paddington loves warm colours. When Paddington meets the family he is instantly drawn to Mrs Brown because she wears very colourful clothing. His relationship with Mr Brown is not as instantly warm; he’s an accountant who wears browns and greys but, as he becomes a warmer person throughout the film, his clothes start to reflect that, with more red incorporated into his costume.”Costume designer Lindy Hemmings
Red Becomes Beige in Mr. Brown’s Backstory
By tracing the color red in the costume design, Hemmings shows us that Mr. Brown wasn’t always such a worry wart. Before becoming a father, Mr. Brown wore a red leather jacket, boots, and helmet when riding his turquoise motorcycle with Mrs. Brown. But upon exiting the hospital with his newborn daughter, Mr. Brown is a changed man – he’s now a father. Mr. Brown has exchanged his red jacket and boots for a tan colored sweater vest, is fearful of pollen, and has traded his motorcycle for a Volvo station wagon which Mrs. Brown notes is decidedly ‘beige’.
Mrs. Brown Turns Beige
When Mrs. Brown tearfully reads Paddington’s goodbye note after he leaves the Brown home, both she and her son are wearing beige sweaters. Mr. Brown, wearing a blue sweater, coldly comments that Paddington ‘didn’t really belong here’. But he is immediately rebuked by his son, who is revealed to be wearing a red shirt underneath his beige colored sweater.
All in Red for the Rescue Mission
When the Brown family decides to save Paddington from a taxidermist (Nicole Kidman), each member is wearing red. Mrs. Brown is back in her bright red coat and hat, and both children’s clothes have red accents. Most notably, Mr. Brown has gone from wearing a formal grey suit and blue scarf at the beginning of the film to a casual red t-shirt during the museum rescue mission. His change from wearing formal clothes in cold colors to wearing casual clothes in warm colors showcases Mr. Brown’s change of heart towards Paddington, and his acceptance of the bear into the family.
Paddington saves his last marmalade sandwich for a true emergency involving pigeons, and never gives up his battered red hat, his kindness, or his hope that he will find a loving home. Unlike the rest of the Brown family — each member of which undergoes a positive change arc — Paddington doesn’t really change… he doesn’t need to. Paddington’s gentleness, impeccable manners, and faith in the kindness of others triumphs over the taxidermist antagonist and opens the hearts of every member of the Brown family.
What do you love most about Paddington? Tell me in the comments!