Paddington 2, 2018.
Directed by Paul King.
Starring Ben Whishaw, Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, Peter Capaldi, Brendan Gleeson, Imelda Staunton, and Michael Gambon.
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.
Michael Bond, may you rest easy knowing Paddington Bear has – and will continue – to touch the lives of many with such profound, unifying paws. Your decades-classic children’s literature now a sensational exemplification of the absolute *best* cinema has to offer. Why are other film franchises even trying anymore?
In 2014, it was Paul King’s Paddington that injected Ben Whishaw’s uplifting wee bear straight into my in-need-of-repair soul – and in 2018? Paddington 2 is a perfect feel-amazing cure for the times, let alone a “beary, BEARY” flawless sequel (congratulations, you’ve survived my worst pun). No film has ever caused my heart to swell to where it felt like a piñata filled with candied rainbows and cuddling otters, nor do I gamble another will (until Paddington 3). A furry friend, his marmalade sandwiches and one tremendous belief that behaving exceptionally will always be *the* answer to any problem – these are the things that’ll help me survive 2018.
Our second adventure with Paddington “Brown” (Whishaw) is a British delight built on hard labor, prison sentences and a has-been actor attempting to steal back his former limelight. Hugh Grant’s master of disguise goes by the name of Phoenix Buchanan, a nogoodnik who sets his sights upon a dusty old pop-up book in Mr. Gruber’s (Jim Broadbent) emporium of oddities – the same one Paddington wants to purchase for Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday. Buchanan thieves the book – after hearing rumor that entertainer Madame Kozlova illustrated clues on each page as to the whereabouts of her fortune – but poor Paddington gets blamed for the illegal act after a frantic chase. It’s up to the Brown family to prove Paddington’s innocence while he waits behind bars…and it’s up to Paddington not to lose hope.
Now, more than ever, we need a movie like Paddington 2. From start to finish, director Paul King nurtures optimism in the most palatable form because darkest Peru’s bubbliest native can’t even comprehend how to treat others badly (what a world). He is polite to perfection; a role model for all species and impossibly motivational no matter whose life he’s improving. You couldn’t paint a clearer message – treat others with kindness and compassion for best results – yet execution is never hambone or Hallmark cheesy. Paddington can’t fathom why someone would be “bad,” which accounts for the bluntest, most spot-on professions in the name of…wait for it…being nice! How novel.
King repeatedly pulls his greatest magician’s trick by cuing obvious gag scenarios (Paddington the lone worker in a barbershop), initiating loony domino-effects (tangled razor wire, botched haircut), yet still earning a belly laugh upon Paddington’s coveted “Oh dear.” No matter the sequence of events. Oh, Paddington smears condiments all over the apron of locked-up brawler Knuckles McGinty (a wonderfully gruff Brendan Gleeson)? Hoots and hollers. A little bear’s inability to lift his soapy pail of water two floors high? Giggles abound. Hugh Grant dresses up as a convent nun and the night watchman (Simon Farnaby) repeatedly remarks about how he’d gazed upon the most stunning woman of cloth ever to grace St. Paul’s cathedral? More predictable than McGinty’s stumbled-upon love of marmalade, yet equally – inarguably – as amusing.
Trust me when I promise Paddington’s maximum security jailhouse stint never loses his signature sweetness. It doesn’t take long before the fuzziest Brown rescues his fellow inmates from McGinty’s bland sawdust slop by reigniting the chef’s desire to please (thanks to a collection of prisoner recipes). Grey walls turn pink, potted flowers add dashes of floral cheer, warden yells are drowned out by sing-songy whistles – hell, there’s even a draped “Prison Sweet Prison” banner because that’s the kind of infectious positivity Paddington refuses to let die. It’s so easy to give up – to believe the Brown’s will just move on – but there’s nothing stronger than a bear’s will. Manners maketh the animal, and even though it takes one “hard stare” to keep McGinty in check (Paddington’s shameful secret weapon), it’s impossible to deny Paddington’s radiant influence even on the nastiest, most hardened thugs (Tom Davis, Noah Taylor, Aaron Neil, etc).
In Paddington 2, every single actor is having the time of their lives. Even Peter Capaldi – the self-appointed security scrooge of Windsor Gardens – chews through dialogue about delinquent bear danger levels reaching sky-high. The Browns themselves orchestrate a touching display of support for London’s happiest little civilian (Samuel Joslin hides his love of steam engines, Sally Hawkins puts The Shape Of Water to good use, Hugh Bonneville nails a “bullseye” and Madeleine Harris brings some integrity to journalism), but that’s hardly the end. Random street walkers come to Paddington’s aid because of selfless acts like sharing breakfast or pushing them towards romance, and inmates with names like Charley Rumble or T-Bone rally around despite Mr. Brown’s disapproval (and an awkward visiting exchange). Everyone, criminal or newspaper vendor, share the capacity for human compassion – never lost.
This brings us to Hugh Grant, who – for obvious reasons – has the most fun of all. Stuck in this fading spotlight of dog food commercial notoriety, Grant’s dramatic caricature still stores all his old costumes in a jazzed-up attic hiding place. He’ll talk to himself *as* each past role, carrying on conversations while cycling through multiple voices at a time. Shakespearean poets, knights – did I even hear the name “Poirot” uttered? In any case, Grant is allowed to overact to his heart’s content, and bless me father but his nunnery infiltration is a stoic slink of divine comedic praise. Grant’s old-theater egotism blows hot air and charms incredulously, all with a devilishly entertaining twinkle. He is the equal to Nicole Kidman’s original villain – a bit more bumbling, but expertly realized.
It is, amidst all this fluffiness, most telling how I’ll end by conveying the astounding sincerity of a film that left me with a smile from San Francisco to Atlantic City. Paddington 2 beams a scorching ray of sunshine right from when baby cub Paddington is rescued by Aunt Lucy to the very last shot of…well…wait and see – but have a bazillion hankys at the ready. Without a doubt, this is a cinematic masterclass in purified do-gooding that will remain a constant favorite as 2018 rambles on. The perfect family film, this year or any other. Never have I felt so many ironclad emotions about an animated bear’s survival (that thrills-abound finale, talk about anxiety), and goddammit if I’m here for another fifty more slapstick adventures with Paddington Bear.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★★★/ Movie: ★★★★★