By: Hawk Ripjaw (A Toast) –
Movies with talking bears just get to me, and I can’t explain why. They just do. And Paddington 2 just solidifies it. Yes, a family movie about a talking bear caused a grown man to start crying in the theater. The mother two seats down scooted her children away from me. I am an adult and this turned me into a kid– every single fear and doubt in my mind melted away.
Paddington (Ben Whishaw) has settled in with his new family, led by the infectiously sweet Mary (Sally Hawkins) and gruff but vulnerable Henry (Hugh Bonneville), and has become a fixture of his quaint London neighborhood.
Paddington anxiously awaits his Aunt Lucy’s (Imelda Staunton) 100th birthday, and Paddington wants to repay a lifetime of kindness with the perfect gift. With the help of Mr. Gruber (Jim Broadbent), he comes across a vibrant pop-up book of London, the perfect portrait of the city Aunt Lucy has been yearning to see her entire life. The book fetches a high price, which Paddington is willing to pay through as many menial jobs as he can hold. Unbeknownst to Paddington, the book is actually a treasure map, which failed character actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant) intends to steal and use to find the lost riches somewhere in London and resurrect his one-man show. In trying to stop him, Paddington is blamed for the theft and incarcerated. With the help of his family, Paddington must clear his name and get Aunt Lucy’s birthday present back.
The spirit of the Paddington films is one of decency, thoughtfulness, and identifying the inherently good qualities in everyone. Paddington 2 welcomes viewers back with open arms, and shows how the town has grown to welcome Paddington as one of their own. In an early sequence, the townspeople are shown going about their morning duties assisted by Paddington: a marmalade sandwich for someone here, a friendly reminder to bring the keys there. One wonders how these people even functioned before a talking bear showed up to help them get their lives together, but it hardly matters: goodwill is the main ingredient of Paddington 2, and it’s an effective one.
Everything in Paddington 2 comes together amazingly well: on the visual side, Paul King once again evokes some Wes Anderson-flavored shot composition (assisted by DP Erik Wilson) while keeping his own signature style intact with a great understanding of visual humor. The production design is detailed and bursting with personality. The jokes have the sort of broad appeal that doesn’t pander to children or parents, whether it be Buster Keaton-flavored physical comedy or slight setups that pay off unobtrusively much later. Most importantly, it endears to all without stooping to obvious pop-culture references or obvious attempts to whack itself into crass preteen territory for no reason.
Whishaw breathes believable life into Paddington (whose CGI is even better now), and the rest of the supporting cast is a delight. Bonneville, now warmly accepting of Paddington, gamely evolves his character through a hilarious midlife crisis. As a new addition to the series, Hugh Grant gives one of the funniest performances of his career as Phoenix, talking to himself via his different “characters” and sneaking around London in disguise in search of the treasure.
Finally, as a sequel, Paddington 2 could have followed the reigning Hollywood trend of diminishing returns and reheated leftovers in children’s films. It’s the status quo at this point to phone in the sequel for easy money on an established, popular set of characters. Refreshingly, it puts in the same amount of effort to delivering a product of equal or greater quality to the original. It counterbalances any staleness with a greater sense of adventure true to the spirit of creator Michael Bond’s original stories and lets its characters breathe in a way that feels joyfully timeless.
Something as wonderful as Paddington 2 feels exceedingly rare and almost undeserved. Paddington is a role model for all of us: he accepts everyone–no matter how different, no matter how mean, no matter how much they may specifically dislike him, Paddington opens his heart to them. It’s a sobering reminder that who you are and where you come from don’t make you any less of a person, and where you’ve ended up doesn’t make you any less deserving of love. Even if you take away its great technical achievements, Paddington 2 is the warm, kind picture that the world needs now.
It’s funny, and exciting, and moving, and almost everything the genre should be. Family entertainment doesn’t get better than this.
Paddington 2 (2018) Movie Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for each famous British actor showing up to play a bit or supporting part
Do a Shot: every time Paddington wins someone’s heart over
Take a Drink: every time someone says “marmalade”
Do a Shot: good luck holding back tears at the end, sucker