Paddington 2, 2017
Directed by Paul King
Starring Ben Whishaw, Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, Hugh Grant, Madeleine Harris, Samuel Joslin, Julie Walters, Imelda Staunton, Michael Gambon, Marie-France Alvarez, Jim Broadbent, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Miller, Jessica Hynes, Robbie Gee, Richard Ayoade, Sanjeev Bhaskar, and Peter Capaldi
Paddington, now happily settled with the Brown family and a popular member of the local community, picks up a series of odd jobs to buy the perfect present for his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday, only for the gift to be stolen.
It’s not far into Paddington 2 (once again directed by Paul King and based on the creation of Michael Bond) before the giant-hearted small bear is separated from his new family The Browns, and it’s immediately noticeable that the color palette of London instantly becomes diluted, as if the world truly is a dimmer place without his bottomless optimism and indomitable spirit in our presence. In an age where the most popular cinematic works generally deal with violence, the apocalypse, cynicism, or sometimes all of the above, it’s again a welcome and refreshing change of pace to see a movie targeted at all ages slapping on feel-good happiness as thick and plentiful as Paddington smearing marmalade all over his trademark sandwich.
Picking up where Paddington (Ben Whishaw returns to perform the voiceover honors, continuing to do a marvelous job as he elicits the kindhearted positive attitude and vulnerable naivety that inspire us all to do our part acting right and polite) is settled into the Brown’s abode (he’s still amassing knowledge on proper cleansing in the bathroom), the selfless bear realizes that the hundredth birthday of his dear Aunt Lucy is quickly approaching. Since it’s not every day a bear turns 100, Paddington decides the perfect gift to send would be a revered pop-up book of London, except there’s a problem; the change stuck inside his ear isn’t going to be enough to cover the expensive cost.
Naturally, Paddington accepts that he must put in work to accomplish his goal and chooses to tackle some odd jobs (a haircutting disaster, in particular, is a standout comedic delight among many other adorably hilarious moments). Unfortunately, a problematic situation arises with a narcissistic down on his luck fair entertainer (Hugh Grant) who robs the antique shop of the pop-up book, framing Paddington in the process. With no one but his new family left believing the truth of the matter that the disguised perpetrator disappeared in a puff via smoke grenade, the bright red hat and blue duffel coat get swapped out for prison garments. Now, obviously the film doesn’t go into much detail about what his fellow cellmates are rotting away in jail for, but still admirably seeks to stick by Paddington’s creed; he pushes forward seeking out the best in people and somehow finds it, even among what should be the worst of the worst society has to offer. He quickly gets on their bad side thanks to a rather amusing unintentional gag but is able to work his way into their good graces after bonding with the prison chef in a sequence that is simply magical.
It goes without saying that much of Paddington 2 centers on prison shenanigans and coming together with a new, far more unorthodox family while the Browns set aside their daily lives to prove his innocence. Furthermore, because of this, each member feels like less of a distinct personality; during the opening credits Paddington gives a swift narration getting us up to speed on what they each have been up to, but it surprisingly becomes irrelevant until being mentioned again in the ending. In regards to the children Judy and Jonathan, they have their roles reversed with Jonathan now being the kid with a social problem, except instead of being afraid to bring a girlfriend around he’s going through an identity crisis taking on the persona of a freestyle rapper wildly untrue to himself. Henry (Hugh Bonneville) has a better job, and Sally Hawkins’ (currently in the midst of fervent awards talk for her critically acclaimed role in The Shape of Water) Mary still has a thirst for adventure which gels with uncovering the real culprit behind the burglary.
Elaborating on that thought, what’s great about both Paddington movies is that they don’t insult the intelligence of the audience by hiding the identity of the villain for some annoyingly telegraphed reveal that children and adults can both see coming from a mile away like so many other family-oriented titles. This also allows Hugh Grant to chew some scenery playing an over-the-top glorified cartoon character, as Bonneville and Hawkins join him resulting in terrific chemistry within the British humor. Also returning are quite a few stylistic visual touches, most notably animation of the London pop-up book. It’s also worth pointing out that the CGI for Paddington along with his real-world interactions is seamless, uncanny valley technical wizardry.
If the first film was a thematic allegory to foreign policies and opening up our hearts to take in those that have no home, Paddington 2 feels like light family-friendly commentary on criminals; sometimes people get caught up doing bad things for reasons that don’t accurately reflect who they are, and could even be a result of how they were treated by others. Yes, it’s a little silly watching him converse and become friends with criminals that have done God only knows what, but it’s another beautiful reminder that we should all look for the good in everyone. Can Paddington find the good in his former producer Harvey Weinstein? That would be his toughest challenge to date; I’m convinced he could find something minor. Never mind, I’m talking crazy now, but you understand the message.
As a related personal story and fitting closing note, I will say that due to an overnight charging mishap, my wheelchair’s battery kept shutting down before driving completely up the ramp leading into the screening room, but the company around me was enough to manually push me in there. It was an act of kindness that Paddington himself would be proud of, and something that I’m sure made us all feel a little bit better about ourselves and the world. Everyone everywhere should embrace every single thing Paddington stands for.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com