Do yourself a favor and go see this film. Take a kid along if you want, since they are the intended audience, after all. But even if you have no children and can’t borrow one, go see Paddington 2. Why? Because this film is the cure for all the feelings of dank awfulness of the last year, both onscreen and off. It is joyful, innocent, fun, hilarious, filled with hope, and you’ll emerge with a smile on your face. I did. I came out of the movie with the biggest smile on mine, and so did everyone else in the theater. AND we smiled at each other as well. And for a few blessed moments, we believed that kindness, generosity, and love could really conquer all. Of course, that only lasted until we read the latest Presidential tweet, but if you can avoid that until the next morning, you will probably have sweet dreams, thanks to this lovely film.
So how does a film meant for kids not bore an adult to distraction? Of course, Pixar has seemingly perfected this art form. But this isn’t Pixar and, at risk of speaking heresy, I’m kind of glad about that. Sometimes (and don’t get me wrong, I love Pixar films), those films are so clever, so technologically miraculous, you get caught up in all that. I fear that, quite often, producers think you need all that to keep adults in the seats, but sometimes you just need a simple well-told story. Director Paul King succeeds in giving us just that. In my opinion, Paddington 2 should be required viewing for anyone making children’s films. Like the rendering of Paddington Bear himself, the film is sweet, but not too sweet. It is just sweet enough.
Though set in London, the film doesn’t open there, and instead we are re-introduced to the bears who would become Paddington’s Aunt Lucy and Uncle Pastuzo making their way out of the jungle on their way to London. But spotting a small bear clinging to a broken branch in a raging river below causes them to spring into action, saving him from going over the falls, and changing their course from London to raising a baby.
While they never make it to London, Paddington Bear does, and he is now a member of the Brown family. His uncle has passed away, but he regularly updates his Aunt Lucy about life in London. Since she’s turning 100 years old, he decides he wants to send her a special gift, a beautiful antique pop-up book of London; an expensive book, so he works odd jobs to earn the money to buy it. The book ends up stolen and Paddington is tried and convicted of the theft and sent to prison, while the Browns work to find the real thief.
Paddington 2 can rightfully lay claim to some outstanding SFX and CGI animation, especially the film’s animated recreation of Paddington Bear himself, a remarkable achievement with a subtlety of expression and movement that is stunning. Technological advances in animation and motion capture in the years between the first film and now have been put to good use in the sequel. Though it will likely be beat out for special effects awards by one or another of the latest sci-fi or superhero franchises, I doubt any of them can lay claim to anything as realistic and, at the same time, fanciful, as Paddington. As a bonus, there is a scene with a pop-up book that makes you want to throw on your play clothes and jump through the movie screen.
The Paddington 2 actors are top notch, with BAFTA, Oscar and Emmy nominees and winners distributed liberally throughout, and the acting is what you would expect from such a cast. There was a bit of mugging on occasion (it is a children’s film after all) but it was minimal and appropriate when it popped up. The entire ensemble, stars and supporting cast alike really inhabit their characters, a feat I wish more actors—in children’s films in particular—could manage. When that happens, you slip into the world they are creating for you, no matter how fanciful.
My particular favorite was Hugh Bonneville as the mid-life-crisis-bothered Mr. Brown. He is a joy to watch, and due to his annoyance with the notion that he is possibly past his prime, he tries everything from yoga to face masks to try and recapture his youth.
Hugh Grant plays Phoenix Buchanan, an aging actor who turns to villainy to rescue his sagging career and ego. Grant manages just the right concoction of vanity, selfishness, and humor to keep us hating him—we can barely wait for his comeuppance. Brendon Gleeson as the brutish inmate with a secret sweet talent and Paddington’s would-be foe is an unexpected delight. In fact, the prison scenes are easily the best in the film.
But I have to give the most praise to an actor you never see in the film, Ben Whishaw, the voice of Paddington. Whishaw’s voice is as sweet as the marmalade Paddington is so fond of, but not at all cloying. There’s no overacting, which is a trap many actors fall into when voicing an animated character. He hits all the right notes as the earnest young bear. It feels for all the world as warm and comforting as hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day. No one else should ever be Paddington’s voice but Whishaw. He could make a killing reading audio books for a living.
Paddington 2 may be a kid’s movie, but there are plenty of harrowing scenes and a few sad moments that might explain the PG rating it was given by the MPAA. Edge-of-your-seat moments include a death-defying rescue from a raging river and an extended duel on a speeding train between the bad guy and the good guys. You know that it’ll probably come out alright in the end, but I still caught myself biting my nails at the more tense moments, even when there was a fair amount of slapstick action included to keep me laughing. Think Charlie Chaplin, for reference. Oh, and unless you’re made of steel, you’re sure to shed a few sad, and happy, tears while watching. I sure did.
Special commendations are due to the creative team for peopling the film, especially Paddington’s neighborhood, with a diverse and colorful group of neighbors and friends. This was no accident on the part of the director Paul King, who has previously stated that he wanted to represent London in a way that reflects the London he knows, one in which there resides a myriad of cultures and in which nearly every language in the world is spoken. This is just another example of the thoughtful nature of King and co-screenwriter Simon Farnaby’s storytelling. Paddington’s neighborhood makes you feel right at home, no matter who you are.
The story itself is really the star of film. Placing the innocent Paddington in the worst place you can imagine, a prison, is a bit edgy and you can’t help but feel anxious. My first thought was, “How are they going to make this setting funny to children?” But the King and Farnaby navigate even these sensitive waters with an ingenious storyline I won’t risk spoiling for you. It is delightfully clever and actually a little hopeful. I’ll just say that prison officials in the real world could learn a thing or two from a viewing of this film.
In the hands of the wrong director and/or actor, any script, even one this fine, might have been a disaster. Luckily, all involved were up to the task, and have delivered to us a warm, hilarious, joy-filled film. Just what we, grown-ups and children alike, need right now.
Paddington 2 opens in theaters nationwide on January 12th, and is rated PG for some action and mild rude humor.
Written by DaVette See
DaVette See lives in Inglewood, CA with her husband, Rob, her mother, and her seven (yikes) kitties. She has a BA in English and Theater and a Law degree. When not writing, reporting, and video editing for BGN, she operates Running Lady Studios and produces animated shorts. She was a geek before geek was chic. She loves books, plays, movies, and more than anything, she loves telling stories.
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Originally from the Midwest, DaVette lives in Inglewood, CA and can’t name a single sports team. She’s a sci-fi fan, a movie geek, a drama freak, a Trekkie, and a Browncoat. She has a BA in English and Theater, as well as a Law degree, but don’t hold that against her. She acted and directed for the stage for many years, but really loves filmmaking and writing. She owns Running Lady Studios and she is the producer/star of the web-based talk show, Afro Bites! She is wife to Rob, daughter to Martha, and mom to seven (yes seven) cats. When not covered in fur, she’s a West Coast correspondent and occasional movie reviewer for BGN. Follow DaVette on Twitter and IG @mariavah.