Paddington is the personification of British charm. The polite though clumsy bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw) has always been a bastion of empathy and kindness, something so desperately needed in our divided world. While Paddington has been a staple of international children’s literature since author Michael Bond first published the character sixty years ago, the character saw a resurgence in 2014 after the initial Paddington film became one of the highest grossing independent films in British box office history. Now, we have Paddington 2, in which our titular bear is framed for a crime he didn’t commit and must journey to prison where he makes a few friends while his family seeks to clear his name.
Paddington 2 carries over the adorable charm of the unflappably kind bear journeying through a storybook depiction of modern London, spearheaded once again by co-writer/director Paul King. King’s work in British television gives way to a series of cartoonish yet grounded sight gags that show off our bear’s determination, right from the start as he tries several odd jobs to save up for his Aunt Lucy’s (voiced by Imelda Staunton) birthday present to mixed results. King’s knack for childhood imagination visuals gives us a window into the optimistic lavish world Paddington sees on a daily basis, one where people and places are able to give off warmth and color even in the starkest of places. Probably the best example is how Paddington restructures the gloomy Victorian era style prison he ends up in into a warm bustling place of good behavior, with diverse scary looking convicts frolicking to the easy listening calypso tunes of Tobago and d’Lime, who return to provide more endearing songs from the original film.
Paddington‘s prison buddies show off just a small slice of the incredibly endearing supporting cast surrounding our main bear character who – despite being CG – interacts without any seams showing with his various familiar British co-stars. Brendan Gleeson‘s “Nuckles” is a hardened bitter criminal whose heart melts as Paddington shows him the charms of marmalade sandwiches and helping others, which translates over to his prison buddies Noah Taylor and Aaron Neil. The entire prion sequence is a great example of showing how extensive the adorable bear’s reach is, as his boldness in facing the much fear Nuckles or accidental discoloring of the laundry by putting a red sock with the white uniform leads the initially peeved prisoners to wearing pink uniforms and harmoniously be rehabilitated over one hell of a charming montage.
Paddington‘s family is also clearly warmed over by his generosity as they search to clear his name, with Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville as the patriarchs taking it upon themselves to find out the mysterious culprit who framed the poor bear alongside their children Samuel Joslin and Madeleine Harris & family friend Julie Walters. Each has their own hang up established near the beginning of wanting to escape the doldrums of suburban London life but are either too afraid to admit their desire or haven’t quite gotten the chance to grab at it until the elaborate if overlong climax gives them an opportunity. Even most of the neighbors can’t help but be invested in the bear clearing his name… well, except for the angry self instate neighborhood watch guard Mr. Curry (Peter Capaldi) who keeps the neighborhood as safe as he can from the bear he hates just because he’s a bit klutzy and different.
Actually, there’s another new neighbor in town whose outward warmth towards our furry friend is hiding a distant apathy. Hugh Grant plays Phoenix Buchanan, a self obsessed actor who serves as our villain, donning disguises while following clues from an antique pop-up book he stole and framed Paddington for the theft. Grant’s portrayal of an actor so unable to work with others he only desires a one man show is devious in an aloof insane way. His thespian roots lead him to have conversations with his costumes in character, carrying on with Hamlet and MacBeth in his attic while hatching schemes that shows Grant’s incredible comedic timing and hilarious commitment to his various disguises. Truly, he’s a step up from the admirable if forgettable turn from Nicole Kidman as the taxidermist in the first film, who had more of a threat yet less of a wit amongst the cast. Here, Grant’s threat is in his indifference to the needs of others, which contrasts wonderfully with the type of empathy Paddington constantly strives for.
With both live action films, Paddington has really managed to create the rare type of live action children’s films that never hit false notes or talk down to their target audience. Even the worst children’s films out there have toilet humor for children and passing pop culture references for adults. Yet, Paddington 2 and its predecessor set themselves apart by never being crass or bottom of the barrel with their observations of how exhilarating kindness can be. Something that Paddington 2 manages to advance further with more elaborate scenarios and comedic delights. There’s a laid back sensibility here that makes them adorable comfort food, but with a simple message that honestly needs repeating in our modern climate. To quote Aunt Lucy herself, “if we’re kind and polite the world will be right.”
Rating: 4 out of 5 Marmalade Sandwiches
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