The London of the Paddington films seems completely self-contained and separate from the rest of the world. The area that the floppy-hat-wearing Peruvian bear Paddington lives is charmingly free of cynicism or hate, but instead is a welcome world full of heart and compassion and earnestness. There’s a smiling face on every corner and a marmalade sandwich under every hat. Perhaps the greatest gift that the Paddington films can give is a joyous, charming world that can make its audience forget about the dark realities of the modern day. In 2018, sometimes all a film needs is a bit of kindness to brighten the world just a tiny bit.
Paddington 2 is one of the rare examples of a sequel improving on the first. Whereas the first film followed Paddington arriving in London and attempting to find a home for himself, Paddington 2 finds himself fitting in perfectly with the Brown family and the entire neighborhood has accepted that a well-mannered bear is now living amongst them. Voiced with a sweet innocence by Ben Whishaw, Paddington sets off to find the perfect present for his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday. After finding an expensive pop-up book of London at an antique shop, Paddington takes on various jobs to earn the money for the book. At the wrong place at the wrong time, Paddington sees a thief break into the shop to steal the book. After attempting to chase after the criminal, Paddington is framed for the theft and sent to jail. The Brown family must now find the true book thief, while Paddington fears that his new family might easily forget him now that he’s locked away.
Returning for the sequel, director Paul King goes all out with visual style, including hand-drawn sequences, pop-up animations and dollhouse sets and camera framing that reminds heavily of Wes Anderson. Especially with Paddington’s time in jail, it’s hard not to be reminded of The Grand Budapest Hotel’s bright pinks and gorgeously concocted pastries. The jail is a perfect encapsulation of what makes Paddington 2 so wonderful, as the film starts by showing this locale as dreary and glum, but simply the addition of Paddington brightens the world significantly.
With the first Paddington, the heavy plotting was a major flaw, adding a villain that didn’t do much to the story, and throwing Paddington into precarious situations where his clumsiness and lack of awareness led to humorous hijinks felt tacked on. In the sequel, every element of the story nicely clicks together. Paddington’s slapsticky sequences actually work for the story, while the villain, the washed-up actor Phoenix Buchanan – played gloriously by a hammy Hugh Grant – adds another strong, fun mystery to the story. Each story, whether it’s Paddington improving the jail experience, the Browns attempting to get Paddington out of said jail, or Phoenix trying to find a mysterious treasure, all tie together beautifully, with each just as enjoyable and captivating as the other.
Paddington 2 also doesn’t skimp on an incredible cast, with the Brown family led by Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville and Julie Walters, while Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi and Noah Taylor all making supporting roles. But it’s Paddington’s relationship with prison chef ‘Knuckles’ McGinty that might be Paddington 2’s finest choice. Knuckles, as portrayed by Brendan Gleeson, allows the usually stoic actors to let loose and have a ridiculous amount of fun doing it. If this series ever warrants a spin-off, the world would be a better place with a film focusing on just Knuckles and Paddington.
The key to Paddington 2 is there’s an extraordinary amount of care going into every frame. This isn’t the expected, rushed off kid’s movie, just out to make a quick buck. This is clearly a labor of love for each person involved, with each person dedicated to bringing this beloved character and story to life. Paddington 2 is a piece of beauty, from its continual sweet natured outlook, to a genuinely touching conclusion. For Paddington, it’s the small things that matter in life that make him truly happy, and thankfully Paddington 2 exists, a pure gem of wit and love that couldn’t come at a better time.