Paddington 2 is 103 minutes of joyous, wonderful filmmaking. I’ve seen it described as “Baby’s First Wes Anderson” and yes. It has a visual flair that echoes Anderson’s penchant for cross-sections and pastels. But it also has an exaggerated comedic sensibility that recalls silent films and an eye for action that lifts gleefully from Buster Keaton.
Most importantly, it has a true, wholesome spirit. It’s a story about kindness for kindness’s sake and doing your best to take care of the people you love. Yeah, it’s a children’s movie, and thank God it is: Children need movies about kindness that don’t talk down to them. In this day and age, so do adults.
The first Paddington movie in 2014 was a similar success (it’s on Netflix right now, go watch it) — slapstick, visual gags, playful humor and a whole lot of heart and hope. Paddington 2 ups the ante on all of that. It opens with Paddington, now living with the Brown family (Sally Hawkins as Mary, Hugh Bonneville as Henry, Samuel Joslin as Jonathan and Madeleine Harris as Judy), hoping to earn enough money to buy a pop-up book about London to send home to his Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton).
Lucy, after all, sent him away to London in the last movie when she moved to the Home for Retired Bears. Paddington’s such a goddamn sweetheart, such a naive little bear, but by God are all the residents of Windsor Gardens (his street) better off with their buddy Paddington around. His misadventures trying to enter the human workplace are hilarious, all before the primary story starts when he’s framed for the theft of the pop-up book by washed-up actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant, who probably deserves a Best Supporting Actor nomination).
It’s not much of a spoiler to say that Paddington ends up in a local prison because that’s all over the trailers. There, he comes across the grumpy and hardened Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson, who also probably deserves a Best Supporting Actor nomination).
A sequel takes characters and challenges them with new environments. As writer Simon Farnaby mentioned in a recent interview, one problem with children’s movie sequels is that they tend to replay the same conflicts in each and every movie. Paddington 2 finds new ways to challenge Paddington’s undying goodness without feeling like a retread. Buchanan’s villain is a much more varied, interesting character than the first movie’s Millicent (Nicole Kidman). He isn’t over-the-top evil, just selfish, narcissistic, mean. He’s real evil. And Paddington is “real good.”
“If we are kind and polite, the world will be right.”
Paddington is “real good” not because he toes a cultural line, punishes the “bad” by punching them or beats bullies by “out-smarting,” but really just sort of counter-bullying them. One of my problems with a lot of children’s films is that they fall into a relatively self-interested space wherein the story requires the hero to give into bad behavior in some self-justified way, just one time. Or it plays in a way that reinforces self-actualization over the understanding that maybe the most important thing in the world is how we treat other people, even in the face of the natural and overwhelming temptation to respond in kind to mistreatment and misfortune.
We love to watch Paddington because he’s gorgeously rendered and almost nauseatingly adorable but also because his character is essentially a catalyst off of whom the humans can play. He presents, to the people who meet him, an orderly world that doesn’t discriminate about anything besides whether they are kind to each other.
I just needed this right now.
In 2018, you can walk into a movie and come out to learn that Hawaii spent several hours under the false fear of a ballistic missile assault, then learn that the President of the United States was golfing and didn’t see the need to make sure everyone was OK. You also learn that many people whom you love and cherish also think he’s doing a perfectly fine job because he’s fucking over the poor.
There’s a lot of evil out there. So if we’re stuck perpetually teetering two hours away from physical and moral apocalypse, you might as well spend it in Paddington 2, a movie that manages to capture the best qualities of humanity – even if it only succeeds because it finds those qualities in the form of an anthropomorphic, talking Peruvian bear in an overcoat and a big red hat.