Another Delightful Adventure with Paddington


Jordan Bosch

When it comes to children's characters, the British seem to have a fixation with kindly, polite loveable bears, don’t they? Winnie-the-Pooh, Rupert Bear, and of course Paddington, the marmalade loving stowaway from Peru, adopted by an English family, when they found him lost in his namesake train station. 

Though created in 1958, it wasn’t until 2014 that a movie based on this character was made, by Paul King. And much like Paddington himself, it was cute, charming, and innocently endearing. With the death of Paddington’s creator, Michael Bond, last year, now seems a perfect time for another Paddington movie, and Paddington 2, which reunites King and the cast, is much like the first.

Paddington (Ben Whishaw) is still living with the Browns and has become a staple of the Windsor Gardens neighbourhood. With the 100th birthday of his Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) coming up, he endeavours to send her an antique pop-up book of London. But when the book is stolen and he’s framed for the crime, the Browns try to clear his good name, while he attempts to retain his optimism in prison.

There’s a strange trope of comedy sequels sending their characters to prison (Ernest Goes to JailNaked Gun 3Muppets Most Wanted, etc.), and Paddington 2 plays with the idea the way those movies do, touching on a lot of clichés in the process, like how the toughest guy in prison becomes a friend to the protagonist. All of it is predictable, and in fact, everything in the movie is pretty straightforward. There are no surprises as to where the story’s going, what beat they’re going to hit next, or how it will resolve. It flows exactly the way you expect it to, based on the kind of story it’s telling …but that’s actually okay. Because Paddington 2 isn’t aiming for anything great. All it’s trying to do is be cute and charming, like the books. And it does this very well while also mixing in some enjoyable assets. 

Paddington in prison, alongside Brendan Gleason.

Paddington in prison, alongside Brendan Gleason.

Like the first, this movie has a decent sense of humour, with a handful of genuinely clever jokes. It’s also very visually appealing, being quite bright and warm to watch. There’s an especially nice-looking sequence where Paddington imagines showing Aunt Lucy around London through the pop-up book. And Paddington himself is well animated, looking enough like a real bear, and to the credit of the cast, their convincing interaction with him really sells his presence in all of his scenes.

Whishaw is once again likeable and incredibly British as the voice of Paddington, sincere and emotional in all the right moments. It’s good to see Hugh Bonneville as Henry Brown again, even if his role is less significant than it was in the first movie, and he doesn’t really have an arc as such. Sally Hawkins, who’s having an outstanding career this year with Maudie and The Shape of Water, is really great as Mary Brown too. Even in this smaller, unimposing project she’s giving it her all. And I said it in my Maudie review, but it’s worth restating she’s got the prettiest smile you’ll ever see, and she gets more opportunity to display it here than in her other 2017 projects. The Brown kids are there, but it’s unfortunate they don’t have anything to do. It isn’t like they were interesting characters in the first movie to start, but they had purpose. Julie Walters doesn’t do much either, but she can just light up any scene with one line. Hugh Grant plays the villain of this movie, a former Shakesperean actor, and he’s having a good time hamming it up. Like Nicole Kidman, it’s an intentionally over-the-top character, and Grant performs it impeccably. As far as the supporting cast is concerned, this film is a who’s who of British actors and comedians. If you’ve watched any British television, you’ll recognize someone. Of course, there’s the always great Brendan Gleeson in a significant part, but the film also features Jessica Hynes, Ben Miller, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Joanna Lumley, Noah Taylor, Meera Syal, Richard Ayoade, and even Dame Eileen Atkins. Recently retired Doctor Who Peter Capaldi plays the abrasive paranoid neighbour very enjoyably, and Jim Broadbent as the antiques owner delightfully affects the same comical German accent he used in Blackadder’s Christmas Carol

Besides all that talent, it’s just really refreshing to have a family movie that’s in no way manipulative. So many films for kids try to stick in a reference or innuendo where it’s not needed, or pander to that audience with cheap tricks and gags. Disney and Pixar do this a little; DreamWorks as of late, and especially Sony and Illumination do this a lot. But Paddington 2 avoids those pitfalls and remains really humble. There’s an honesty to this movies' intentions and even though not always a lot of effort, it’s made with care. Yeah the writing’s not great, it’s very predictable and contrived, the barest of character arcs are a little awkward, few are really three-dimensional characters to begin with, and it bends the laws of physics a few too many times; but through all this it’s as charming and innocent and unwaveringly sweet as the first movie -and honestly that’s enough for Paddington Bear. Michael Bond would be proud.

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