The Paddington films should win an award for “Most Unlike the Trailers.” Their marketing teasers connote a kids’ film filled with scatological and slapstick humor, just another book-to-film adaptation of a beloved character in order to turn a profit. While there are those jokes and this is a literary adaptation, to reduce the films to such moments is to miss the wonder of these sweet family films which are so full of whimsy and heart. Imagine the spirit of Amelie Poulain, the quirkiness of a Wes Anderson film, and the humor of Monsieur Hulot or Charlie Chaplin, all set in jolly ol’ England. The Paddington films paradoxically celebrate the best of contemporary British culture via nostalgia and tradition. Indeed, Paddington creator and author Michael Bond passed away earlier this year, and the film is devoted to him in the credits. The cadre of actors from around the British isles are remarkable and clearly enjoying their roles, and are some of the very best working today. Moreover, these are political films in the best sense of the word–they are about the people of society, how we ought to live our public lives and treat our neighbors, even if that neighbor is a bear sporting a duffel coat.
The story-telling follows a classic and familiar arc, but in ways which feel less like the Same Old Thing and more like coming home. The first film followed Paddington (wonderfully voiced by Ben Whishaw) on his journey from Peru to London in search for such a home. He finds what he’s looking for in the Brown family, with Henry (Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville) and Mary (Sally Hawkins) and their children Judy (Madeline Harris) and Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) providing the kind and caring atmosphere Paddington imagines. At its heart, Paddington was an immigration and refugee fable, employing a magical realism to invite its audience to consider how to care for the marginalized and oppressed. In the same vein, Paddington 2 is almost parabolic in evoking the same question which prompted Jesus to tell the story of the Good Samaritan: who is my neighbor?
The film centers on Paddington’s desire to celebrate the 100th birthday of his Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton), who, alongside Uncle Pastuzo (Michael Gambon) adopted and raised the orphaned cub in the jungles of Peru. Because of her responsibility for Paddington, Lucy never traveled and visited London, so Paddington wants to bring London to her through the perfect gift: a beautiful antique pop-up book he finds in the shop of his friend, Mr Gruber (Jim Broadbent). When Paddington is mistakenly accused and arrested as a thief for stealing the valuable rare book, he finds himself navigating life in the penitentiary as the Browns search for the real culprit, flamboyant and semi-obsolete actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant, chewing up the scenery with gusto).
Paddington 2 hits the right emotional beats at the right times through its likable characters and sentiment. There are overt nods to Chaplin and Keaton, and the slapstick humor and timing are incredibly effective (my packed theatre was roaring with laughter throughout). There are also beautiful creative touches, such as an animated romp through England with Aunt Lucy via the pop-up book, or the musical montages which reminded me, somehow, of La La Land. The color palette of the film is rich and vibrant, and the aesthetic is often like the already-mentioned Wes Anderson in its structure. Much of the prison sequence reminded me strongly of The Grand Budapest Hotel, both in its protagonist’s unlikely presence and flourishing within the walls of a prison, as well as the ubiquitous color pink (let’s just say there was a snafu with the laundry). Throughout his adventures, Paddington continues to befriend everyone he meets as he quotes Aunt Lucy’s personal maxims: “If we’re kind and polite, the world will be right.” Even the most hardened of criminals, like Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson), the prison’s cook, can’t hold up against Paddington’s quiet charm and propriety.
That’s the thing about Paddington–he’s quiet and polite, even sheepish at times, yet he’s not insecure. He’s confident without being brazen, principled without being dogmatic, and kindhearted without being insincere or a pushover. As such, he’s the sort of protagonist within a family film everyone can admire and adore, even desire to emulate. It’s not that Paddington is static or boring or doesn’t have anything to learn; he’s quite a dynamic character and does have to adjust to his new life in urban London as opposed to the jungles of Peru. But this isn’t the trope of a simpleton outsider with all the right answers. He learns as much as he teaches. He’s relatable and likable; that he’s a CGI bear makes no difference. What’s remarkable is that isn’t a hint of malice or vengeance in Paddington even as he seeks justice by putting a stop to Phoenix Buchanan’s charade and retrieve the book. When he’s invited to break out of prison, he initially refuses, because he knows he’s innocent and only wants to do the right thing. And that’s the heart of it all–Paddington is a good person who tries to do good to others. Indeed, he sees the good the in others, even those who don’t often present themselves as good. He’s the outsider who finds himself welcomed as “one of us” precisely because he welcomed first. Through ordinary acts of service and kindness, this humble-yet-confident person transforms his neighborhood for the better. That’s genuinely good news. Some might call even it gospel.
IMDB Listing: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4468740/