A few years ago a delightful little bear by the name of Paddington made his way to the big screen bringing a legendary literary figure to the masses in live action for the first time. At the time I didn’t watch it because I had yet to be the movie junkie I am today. I didn’t think a family film about an anthropomorphic bear was worth the ticket. A few years later the world got a sequel and now in 2018 America has been graced with that film. So I found the original, watched it and to my surprise it was delightful and charming. Even more of a surprise…the sequel was even more delightful and charming! I got the chance to view this fantastic family film on Martin Luther King Day and now I present to you my take on the first universally praised film of the year, “Paddington 2”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
“Paddington 2”, once again based on the classic character by Michael Bond, picks up some time after the events of the first film with the titular bear, again voiced by Ben Whishaw, now having fit in perfectly in London and at the Brown’s home. With Paddington’s aunt Lucy about to celebrate her 100th birthday Paddington stumbles on an antique popup book at a local antique shop that shows some of London’s most iconic landmarks and sees it as the perfect gift for his aunt as she never got to see the city of London for herself. When the book is stolen by egotistic actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), who keeps his identity hidden through disguises, Paddington is framed for the crime and sent to prison. With Paddington’s fate on the line the Browns set out to find the true culprit while Paddington himself makes some rather dangerous friends behind bars and a bigger secret hidden within the popup book comes to light.
Just like in the first film, every actor on screen owns their rather over-the-top personas in this delightful sequel. Ben Whishaw is actually perfect as Paddington, and given that Colin Firth was originally supposed to play the bear I have to say Whishaw’s portrayal of the character feels much more appropriate to the youthful personal of Paddington than a Firth performance probably would have provided. That’s not a crack a Firth by any means, the guy is a great actor, but with a character as iconic as this casting is essential to bringing them to fully realized life and in this series Whishaw gives the bear a strong youthful presence that was important to who the character is without sacrificing maturity or charm.
All the same actors return to portray the Browns including High Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Madeleine Harris, Julie Walters and Samuel Joslin and when compared to the first movie we see a lot of growth in this family as a whole, likely due to Paddington’s arrival. Each characters gets a backstory to how they’ve evolved since the first movie, which as you might imagine comes back to play an important role in their involvement in the finale. These roles remain over the top and a bit cartoonish, but instead of completely hamming it up each actor seems to genuinely have fun with these characters and avoid going so overboard that their performances border on loony or annoying. There’s just the right amount of goofiness and quirkiness worked into each character to make them memorable and significant without allowing the film to feel too much like a cartoon. The film doesn’t rest on its laurels either, allowing these character to develop and grow separate from Paddington to continue to keep them relevant in the story. The Browns don’t take a back seat of Paddington. Like the first film, they’re just as important to the story as the titular bear.
A few new faces also shine in this cast, especially the contributions of Hugh Grant and Brendan Gleeson. Grant plays the film’s main antagonist, Phoenix Buchanan. A self-centered actor on the back-end of his career, Buchanan is also the ancestor of a former magician who once tried to unravel the mysteries unknowingly hidden within the antique popup book that is the driving item in the plot. As a villain Grant is just memorable enough and his motivations are much more, shall we say, family friendly than the previous film’s evil taxidermist. Buchanan as a villain is fully fleshed out and Grant does a fantastic job giving us a family-friendly bad guy that is both intimidating and satisfyingly cunning as he uses is reputation to keep his name off the list of suspects. The character is a bit cliche, but it’s much better than it could have been which is a sentiment that seems to resonate in this film. This whole project rises well above what it probably should have and could have been in lesser hands. But More on that later.
On the other end is Brendan Gleeson who plays Nuckles, a jailhouse cook and prisoner Paddington befriends after introducing him to the bear’s recipe for marmalade. Gleeson, who is a personal favorite of mine, does a fantastic job with this character making him a truly terrifying physical force that stretches the limitations of Paddington’s charm. Once he warms up to the bear however he becomes the de facto leader of the prison inmates and an important ally to Paddington. Nuckles adds humor to the story without being a generic throwaway character worked in for spice. While the film does have its share of insignificant characters, Gleeson is not one of them and makes the most out of a role that, again in lesser hands, would probably have been much less memorable. Nuckles is the perfect antithesis to Paddington, serving as a dryer and more grounded character when compared to his new bear friend. He’s a cynic turned gentle giant all because Paddington chose to ask him a question. It’s actually a pretty cool character to watch evolve as the film progresses.
Everything really. I’m serious there was very little wrong with a film that probably has no right being as good as it is. All the charm and amusement brought forth by the first movie is doubled here making it a very controlled, endearing and engaging tale that entertains everyone from the young to the young at heart. Director and co-writer by Paul King had a lot of pressure on his shoulders to bring such a legendary character to life and for the second time he has done it perfectly.
Everything works in this sequel right down to the plot devises and characters. It feels familiar, but also stands well on its own as a new adventure for us to behold with characters we grew to appreciate in the previous film. The Browns, Paddington, and the remaining cast of both villains and friends all feel fully fleshed out and the story is driven by an object that avoids McGuffin status by actually having a story and significance important to the plot. Yes is does delve into some very ridiculous child friendly territory, but it’s important to remember this IS a children’s property after all and even while embracing it’s youth-based shenanigans “Paddington 2” offers enough for adults to appreciate as well which prevents it from becoming just another generic family film adults were probably dragged to by their kids. In fact this is a film I expect many parents to drag their kids to in order to show them what a great film really is at an early age.
“Paddington 2” is well paced, very well scripted and acted, and save for a few admittedly ridiculous moments it provides a wonderfully charming source of escapism that I just couldn’t help but enjoy. As much as I tried to find a problem with the film I couldn’t find any major detracting factors at all. I smiled almost the whole time I was watching the film and even chuckled at a few moments. I found the story to be genuinely entertaining and even when I already knew the outcome seeing it play out and experiencing the adventure first hand felt worth my time. For a property I really didn’t expect much from to start I found myself giddy and highly entertained by both movies, but “Paddington 2” not only continued the quality of its predecessor, it built on it to create something even better and more entertaining with new story elements, a bigger world and cast of characters and, most of all, a story that felt like a natural progression of the famed bear and his adopted family.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
In my search to find anything I could criticize about this film the only things I could really point out are a few poor moments of CGI here and there and, of course, the child friendly tone of the film that probably wouldn’t work well for more mature viewers. While Paddington himself is absolutely beautifully animated there were a few scenes, like the screenshot above, with background CGI that didn’t quite match the smooth presentation of the rest of the film. Moments in Paddington’s home jungle and later on a train through England were unpolished and while these moments did capture some beautiful imagery for us to behold they were still dull spots in an otherwise perfect family feature if you really wanted to be nitpicky
Of course the other big criticism, which is more a matter of taste than a judgement of the film, is that it is very kid friendly and it requires a certain extension of disbelief to appreciate. I mean if you’re going to watch this film you should already know there are going to be some pretty ridiculous situations the characters find themselves in and yes it does feel like the significance of some characters are borderline forced or a little too convenient, but in a children’s film like this those are to be expected. “Paddington 2” not only handles these tropes smoothly, but justifies them through smooth storytelling and the inspiration Paddington’s presence has brought to the world around him. In this way even the most negative aspects of the story are important to the film’s quality and success so really, outside of some less-than-stellar CGI moments, “Paddington 2” still manages to impress.
To say I was impressed by “Paddington 2” is an understatement. As with most films that receive high scores from other reviewers I went in with a much more critical eye trying to find a reason for my review to be different and standout with a lower score. Many times though I actually agree with other critics and here we are. “Paddington 2” is not only a great sequel that does everything a sequel should do, it’s also a delightful family film on its own that is sure to warm the heart of everyone who watches it except maybe the harshest of cynics. Its titular character is adorable and memorable and the rest of the cast finds perfect balance in their admittedly over the top roles. The story is inspired, character driven and smooth and builds perfectly on what we already loved about the first movie. Take a note Hollywood. This is not only how a sequel should be made, but it’s a formula for the perfect family film especially one based on a pretty lucrative and legendary property. It’s not every day I see a film that deserves a perfect score from me without being purely art or blockbuster fanfare, but this one deserves all the praise it has received from others and, now, from me as well. If you give it a shot it just might warm your heart too.