Directed by Paul King
Goddamn this is one sweet movie, and Paddington, like Fred Rogers, is someone we would all be lucky to have in our own lives. He’s a talking bear who lives with a human family in a small London neighborhood where everyone knows and loves him. He’s a delightful character who sees the best in everyone and finds just about all of life to be quite charming.
When he finds himself in trouble later in the movie, the family and neighborhood will band together to save him, demonstrating the raw power and joy of family, both blood and forged. The patriarch of Paddington’s adoptive family, Henry Brown, will declare, “[Paddington] looks for the good in all of us and somehow, he finds it! It’s why he makes friends wherever he goes.”
The plot plays out like an early Woody Allen comedy, with multiple twists and turns and a character in the middle of it all who is nothing but optimistic. Paddington lives a quiet life until a local, rare book is stolen, and he is arrested for the crime. A quick trial later, and Paddington finds himself in prison. There he quickly befriends a bunch of chest-puffing toughs, led by the feared cook, Knuckles (Brendan Gleeson). After Knuckles gets a taste of Paddington’s homemade marmalade sandwiches, he becomes enamored with him, and soon they turn the kitchen into a wonderland, straight out of any number of current popular cooking shows.
This comes after Paddington’s laundry mishap which turns all of the prisoners’ uniforms pink, an aesthetic they hold onto for the rest of the film. It’s also this color palette (and symmetrical framing) which will remind you of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014).
While Paddington is in jail, his family tries to clear his name, searching for who they suspect to be the real thief, local actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant). He is a conniving fellow, set up immediately to be the villain, though even his sins are somewhat outweighed by his cartoonish charm. Like Sunset Boulevard‘s Norma Desmond he is just looking for his next close up.
The plot escalates in the adventurous ways you’d expect, culminating in a third act railroad chase in which just about every character is provided an opportunity to explore their respective talents, established in a quick montage to begin the film. Nothing here is surprising, but it still works like a captivating song you’ve heard hundreds of times before.
Like that Mr. Rogers documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the effect of Paddington 2 is its sense of reassurance. Paddington briefly lets his fear of being forgotten run amok, but even then he seems to make do with it, understanding that all he can do now is move forward. His family, of course, hasn’t forgotten about him, and neither have his neighbors or the other prisoners with whom he eventually escapes and seems to part ways.
Paddington 2 is remarkably sweet, and it ends on such a warm, final note with an incredibly succinct line that I’m getting chills right now writing about it. I know, it’s ridiculous, but damn the movie accomplishes what it’s trying to do incredibly well.
I think a lot of this has to do with Paddington’s voice (Ben Whishaw). It’s delicate, like the slightly wheezy voice of someone who couldn’t run thirty steps before becoming winded. It’s the sound of a kindly old man, but Paddington himself is much more like a child, curious about the world and full of a boundless but controlled energy.
Up Next: 45 Years (2015), Mother! (2017), Midnight Run (1988)