Upon first viewing Paul King’s “Paddington,” it may appear to the viewer to be perfectly obvious who is the villain in the story.

KidmanIt looks as if the dark force of evil is entirely captured in the person of Milicent, the wicked taxidermist intent on preserving a rare species of Peruvian bear as an exhibit in the Natural History Museum.

Milicent is played to slinky plastic perfection by Nicole Kidman, shooting poisonous darts with deadly accuracy and crashing into the Brown’s apartment in pursuit of her prey with no respect for private property. She is heartless, callous and magnificently single-minded in pursuit of the prize of Paddington’s carcass.

Milicent is the archetypal villain throughout the film.

But, upon reflection, it turns out that Milicent is not Paddington’s true adversary. That role is left to Mr. Henry Brown (Hugh Bonneville), the tortured father of Judy and Jonathon.

Mr. Brown is the real threat to Paddington’s harmonious transition from bear in the wilds of Peru, to well-adjusted Mr. Browninhabitant of metropolitan London.

Mr. Brown embodies the fear and insecurity that make it impossible for us to embrace people whose lives are radically different than ours and who we thus perceive to be a threat to our way of life and our well-being or the safety of our families.

In his professional life, Mr. Brown is a risk assessor. He knows all about danger. He knows that life is desperately unpredictable and full of frightening hazards. He believes that our task in life is to do all we can to control the forces that threaten our well-being and to keep ourselves and the members of our immediate family safe from danger.

A humorous flash back scene shows a young Mr. Brown and his pregnant wife Mary (Sally Hawkins) screeching wildly to a stop on a motor cycle outside the hospital, presumably for the delivery of their first child. In the next scene, now Mummy and Daddy Brown, with their brand-new offspring are seen leaving the hospital. Mr. Brown’s hair is trimmed; he is dressed conservatively and calls for anyone within 50 meters of his young family to give them a wide berth lest they bump the fragile new baby as they make their way to the new responsible beige Volvo family station wagon that has replaced their motorcycle.

On the threshold of parenthood, Mr. Brown has become instantly,watchful, cautious, careful, protective and prudent. From now on he is going to play it safe. There is no room in Mr. Brown’s world for a wild, unpredictable bear who spreads chaos and confusion wherever he lands and whose habits and native language are so unusual.

It may be that Mr. Brown turns out to be the real hero of the film as he is transformed from a timid frightened and guarded little man to an expansive, generous risk-taker able to launch out bravely to protect a vulnerable bear from discrimination.

Fear and insecurity make it hard for us to embrace difference.When we experience diversity as a threat, we inevitably retreat to a place where welcome becomes impossible.

If we are going to achieve a truly welcoming world, it will only be as we discover that difference is not a threat, but a gift. The extraordinary diversity of the human community and the world as a whole enriches our lives.

He may not look like us. He may have different habits and enjoy an unusual cuisine, but we do not need to be afraid of Paddington.

Paddington

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