Paddington 2 | Paul King | January 12, 2018
The world is a troubled place. There’s not much good news emerging these days, especially when we’re stuck with a President who causes more distress than comfort on a multiple-tweet basis. Things have certainly looked better with our country and world-at-large, but we have found some solace in each other and distractions in the form of art. If there was ever a need for an uplifting film to act as a rare beacon of hope, it’s now. Well, here comes Paddington 2.
Although January is usually known as the dumping ground for awful movies that are more often dead-on-arrival, saving the day is Paddington 2, the latest installment based on British author Michael Bond’s Paddington Bear children’s books. His stories have warmed the hearts of children and adults alike for over half a century and seem destined to touch new generations for many years to come with it’s latest live-action/CGI film installment. It’s a rare sequel that surpasses its predecessor and the even rarer case of a great movie being released this early in the calendar year.
We catch up with Paddington, who has comfortably settled into life in Windsor Gardens. Once an outsider, he worked his way into the hearts of the Brown family who can’t imagine life without dear Paddington. The same can be said by his neighbors in the community who rely on him to make their days that much better. Upon a visit to Mr. Gruber’s (Jim Broadbent) antique shop, Paddington finds a valuable and rare pop-up book of London that makes the perfect gift for his beloved Aunt Lucy’s (voiced by Imelda Staunton) 100th birthday. Being an expensive item, Paddington lines up some work to try and earn the money. Only before he can save the money, a thief steals the book from the shop and frames the innocent bear, tragically sending him to prison. The Browns spend their days trying to clear his good name as Paddington spends his days locked behind bars.
Paul King once again returns to the director’s chair, based on a script that he co-wrote with Simon Farnaby. King’s return helps with the continuity of the first film, boasting a newfound confidence in his approach, ultimately improving upon what he got right the first go-round. What one may mistake as just an adventure geared for younger cub-sized viewers is actually family-friendly fun geared for audience members of all ages. King has crafted a film that has a timeless, classic quality to it that operates in a manner that is bristling with pure joy and heartfelt passion that is impossible not to love.
Not only are there plenty of well-crafted slapstick gags and set-ups with the naturally goofy Paddington, but they’re handled with such smart skillful grace that they feel classical, operating with the visual humor of classic silent films of a bygone era. It’s almost too good to be true at how sharply King and his cast capture the heart and essence of this character in such a charming manner. Large in part due to the well-done animation of the titular Paddington, but also a tremendous cast featuring some of the best British actors of our time.
Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, and Julie Walters are once again delightful in their return as the heads of the Brown family. Hugh Grant shines as the villainous washed-up actor Phoenix Buchanan, practically stealing the whole show with a pitch-perfect performance that had me smiling all the way through. Finally, Brendan Gleeson and Noah Taylor join the cast as welcome new additions to the series as some rather colorful personalities that Paddington meets in prison. That’s not to mention the crucial voice work of Ben Whishaw as the voice of Paddington; the warmth he brings to Paddington is crucial to the spirit of the character and shouldn’t be taken for granted.
The same can be said about this film and the Paddington series as a whole. It’s a marvel that we have been gifted with a children’s series with so much humanity and wit. There are plenty of reasons that this could have been another brash live-action/CGI film that became everything that the source material is not. But thankfully for us, King and Farnaby were steadfast in maintaining the spirit and heart of Bond’s work and the films absolutely glisten on the big screen as a result. It bravely takes some big risks with its direction (with some clever and standout cinematography from Erik Wilson) with some set-pieces in the prison that remind of The Grand Budapest Hotel and even an old-school action climax that takes place on a steam train. What’s not to love?
In all honesty, we don’t deserve a film this good. Paddington 2 is a smart, genuine and heartfelt kids movie that is able to reach out to a broad audience, delivering important themes without ever being preachy or ham-fisted. Its timely commentaries on immigrants and not being afraid of “the outsider” may get lost on younger viewers but are certainly there. It entertains with slapstick humor, dazzling visuals and heartwarming scenes that may put a tear in your eye. There’s so much love and humanity felt with every line of dialogue or expression that it’s the perfect antidote that we need during these dark times of uncertainty. But if we take Paddinton’s guidance and try to be the best we can and look for the best in our neighbor and the other, we will come out of it alright. We may not even be halfway through January, but we already have our first gem of the year.
P.S. Stay through the credits for one hell of an epic bonus scene that you don’t want to miss.