Based on the beloved children’s books series by Michael Bond, Paul King’s 2014 film ‘Paddington’ is unabashedly earnest and has garnered a devoted fan base. Following a gentle protagonist along a flat character arc, King creates the thematic motif of kindness using the the color red.
Paddington is trusting, anthropomorphic, talking bear from the jungles of ‘Darkest Peru’ who travels to London in search of a British explorer who has promised him 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 close association with the meaning of home.
The Brown Family in Red at the Train Station
Paddington arrives at his namesake train station in London with only with his battered red hat and a marmalade sandwich ‘for emergencies’. The color of Paddington’s hat indicates his trust in the kindness of strangers and his faith that he will find a home and family.
Their surname a warm but slightly muddled version of red, the Brown family first encounter Paddington stranded and friendless at the train station. The amount of red in each family’s clothing aligns with 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 shoes — 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, foreshadowing his embrace of Paddington into the family before his older, more cynical sister, who wears only a small amount 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 and is dressed entirely in cool colors including a grey coat and blue scarf. His formal suit and lack of any warm colors is a visual clue that establishes Mr. Brown as the character who will undergo the most change by the film’s end.
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 when riding his turquoise motorcycle with Mrs. Brown. But upon exiting the hospital with his newborn daughter, Mr. Brown is a changed man now that he’s a father. He’s swapped his red leather jacket and boots for a tan colored sweater vest and is now fearful of pollen. He’s also traded his colorful 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 decide to save Paddington from a taxidermist each member is wearing red for the museum rescue mission. Mrs. Brown is back in her bright red coat and hat and both children’s clothes have red accents. Most notably, Mr. Brown has left his formal grey suit and blue scarf behind in favor of a casual red t-shirt. 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.
While Paddington sacrifices his last marmalade sandwich for a true emergency involving pigeons, he never gives up his battered red hat, his kindness, or his hope of finding a loving home. Unlike the rest of the Brown family — each member of which undergoes a positive change arc to varying degrees — Paddington follows a flat character arc and doesn’t really change. And 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!