Director: Paul King
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, Hugh Grant, Brendan Gleeson, Madeline Harris, Samuel Joslin, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Noah Taylor, Aaron Neil, Peter Capaldi, Jessica Hynes, Ben Miller, the voices of Ben Whishaw, Imelda Staunton, Michael Gambon
MPAA Rating: (for some action and mild rude humor)
Running Time: 1:43
Release Date: 1/12/18
Review by Mark Dujsik | January 11, 2018
"If we're kind and polite, the world will be right," says the big-hearted bear in the oversized red hat and blue duffel coat. It seems like a particularly good lesson right now, even if it also comes across as a bit naïve. Paddington 2 addresses this reality of the kind and polite bear's worldview through a few of its characters and a significant obstacle. There's a lesson, though, in those things, too. After all, if one's outlook on the world isn't put to a challenge here and there, how can one be certain that it's a worthwhile one in the first place?
The utterly delightful Paddington 2 feels like the right film for this moment in time, when a disconcerting number of people are angry at or afraid of each other for reasons as complex as politics and as trivial as the way people look or speak. Several people in this film are actually afraid or have a dislike of Paddington (voice of Ben Whishaw), if you can believe it. He definitely doesn't look like your average Londoner, and that's enough for one man on the block where Paddington lives with his adoptive family. A judge is quite irritated with Paddington after a disastrous trip to the barbershop. Another man sees him as the perfect fall guy—sorry, bear—for a robbery. A whole lot of hardened prisoners are convinced that the bear isn't long for the penitentiary, which seems like a rational expectation for a small, cuddly animal whose diet consists of multiple meals of marmalade sandwiches.
Paddington, the creation of the late Michael Bond, has existed in the middle ground of popular characters from children's literature, but he endures nonetheless, returning to the cultural conversation after the first film from a few years back and hopefully capturing an even larger portion of hearts and minds after this vastly superior sequel. Appropriately enough, endurance is the key to Paddington's adventure this time around. Paddington is sure of his worldview, but at a certain point, it seems that everything and everyone either wants to put a stop to it or forget it when they need it most.
That's not the case with Paddington, who meets every person and every new challenge with a positive attitude, an opinion that there's good in everyone, and what is sometimes a bit too much honesty and sincerity. That's Paddington, honest and sincere through and through—possibly to a fault, although we don't really want to fault him for it. To get through this adventure, he just has to have faith in himself, the rightness of his way of seeing the world, and the goodness of other people. All of us could use a little of those three things about now.
The story picks up a few years after the bear's first adventure. He has settled into life with the Brown family in London. A quick catching-up reveals that Mary (Sally Hawkins) has a plan to swim across the English Channel—a plan concocted after illustrating so many adventures in children's books and deciding that she wants an adventure of her own. Henry (Hugh Bonneville) was recently passed over for a promotion at work, and he has fallen into a full-on mid-life crisis involving dying his hair and yoga.
There's a payoff to the second thing, which comes near the very end of the film. For as many jokes as there are here, it's impressive how patient screenwriters Paul King (who also directed—returning from the first film) and Simon Farnaby are in allowing a few of the punch lines. Most of the jokes are of the physical and sight-gag varieties, and it's clear that King has taken influence from the physics of cartoons (A potted flower provides just the right counterweight to lower Paddington during his first foray in washing windows, and every time something falls on him, he realizes the fact just as it happens) and the logic, as well as the scale, of the great silent comedies (A pair of hair clippers turns the bear into an entangled, bouncing force, and the climax involves some derring-do on and across a pair of trains).
Judy (Madeleine Harris) and Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) are going through some teenage stuff. Judy had her heart broken by a boy, and now she runs a self-published school newspaper—no boys allowed—and wears a beret. Jonathan really loves steam trains, but he has to hide his interest, lest he be seen as uncool at school.
As for Paddington, he wants to buy his Aunt Lucy (voice of Imelda Staunton) a birthday present that appropriately displays how much he appreciates all that she's done for him. There's a lovely little flashback at the beginning, showing how Lucy and her husband Pastuzo (voice of Michael Gambon) put off their planned trip to London to raise a cub that was separated from his family (Undoubtedly, there's another sequel here). Paddington has his eye on an antique pop-up book, showing various landmarks of the city. He figures if she can't come to London, he'll take London to his aunt. There's yet another lovely diversion, as miniature versions of Paddington and Lucy tour the cardboard rendering of the city.
A lot of this material is lovely, but it's never sappy or overly sentimental, because the film is so invested in Paddington's outlook on the world and manner. He brings his little neighborhood together, doing small favors for the locals that they barely notice (bringing a woman her breakfast in exchange for a ride on her bike, helping a garbage collector with an upcoming test, and offering kind consolation to the vendor at the newspaper stand for the state of her love life). They don't realize until it's gone, leaving a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain (played by Peter Capaldi) to rail against those who are "different" and provide a color-coded chart for how afraid the neighborhood should be.
There are darker elements to the sequel, but King and Farnaby have learned their lesson from the first film, which employed a villain who actually wanted to kill our loveable bear (good riddance to that thought). Instead, these characters and situations have a sillier edge to them. The villain is a thieving, disguise-happy, and past-his-prime actor named Phoenix Buchanan (a very funny and very self-deprecating Hugh Grant), who wants the pop-up book for hidden clues to a treasure hidden away somewhere. A misunderstanding takes Paddington to prison, where he transforms the place with the help of a grumpy cook named Knuckles (Brendan Gleeson), a mishap that turns all of the inmate's uniforms pink, and the magic of Aunt Lucy's marmalade recipe.
This is exactly what a sequel should be—taking what works, dismissing what doesn't, and following through on and expanding upon the core of its characters and ideas. More than that, though, Paddington 2 is very funny, encouragingly optimistic, and surprisingly affecting stuff.
Copyright © 2018 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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