Only you can prevent not being won over by Paddington's charm
Paddington 2 is directed and co-written by Paul King and stars Ben Whishaw who returns to voice the role of Paddington. Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, and Jim Broadbent also return to reprise their roles form the first film. Newcomers to the cast include Hugh Grant and Brendan Gleeson.
There's no justifiable reason for me to go over discussing once again just how wonderful the charm and gentle touch is of Paddington, the first serious attempt at bringing Paddington into the cinematic world and the 21st century. As we understand from the first Paddington film, the bear from darkest Peru wishes nothing but the best, and to be kind to all whom he meets, even if he is prone to making a mess of things at times. The approach that Paul King takes towards presenting Paddington in film is so without any kind of pretentious attitude and so careful as to how Paddington's behavior would be perceived by children, that I feel no hesitation towards showering King with confetti for delivering what was easily one of the best children's films in the past few years.
To follow up on Paddington, a film that was such an irresistibly delightful treat, would seem like an incredibly difficult thing to do, especially because a follow-up would have to address the question of, "How on Earth can you tell another worthwhile story in Paddington's world without it seeming like a repeat of the first story?" There was immediately reason to be confident, with Paul King returning as both a writer and the director, and the first film's primary cast back in action and fully intact. Paddington 2 rewards our confidence, serving as a sweet-natured sequel that once again finds its star bear delivering heart, laughs, and another round of colorful fun.
Paddington is enjoying life, now fully settled in with the Brown family and becoming a popular presence in his community. He continues to write to his Aunt Lucy, who will be turning 100 years old very soon. Paddington wants to get Aunt Lucy the best birthday gift possible, and when visiting Mr. Gruber (Jim Broadbent) at his antique shop one day, he comes across an artistic and unique pop-up book of London. Paddington decides the pop-up book is the gift he'll get her, knowing how much Aunt Lucy has always wanted to visit London. Paddington then begins to work a series of odd jobs in order to save up money and purchase the book. However, a thief breaks into the antique shop one night and steals the book. Paddington gives chase, but the thief escapes and Paddington is accused of the crime. Paddington is then arrested, wrongfully convicted, and sent to jail. The thief is revealed to be struggling actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), who lives opposite the Browns. Phoenix is in pursuit of a secret treasure, with clues to the treasure being hidden within the pages of the pop-up book. As Phoenix works to uncover the book's clues, the Brown family works endlessly to try and clear Paddington's name. Paddington, meanwhile, befriends several of his fellow inmates, including the chef Knuckles (Brendan Gleeson).
A fascinating thing going on in Paddington 2 is how it's exercising its charming spirit as a savior in the real world. What I mean by that is that Paddington 2 is unintentionally performing the act of saving the career of Hugh Grant. Grant has been outspoken about his disregard for the acting profession, claiming it was a career that was not his calling, but instead something he just happened to fall into. And while Grant starred in recent successes like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Florence Foster Jenkins, none of those said successes have gotten the attention and massive praise that Paddington 2 has accumulated thus far. The character of Phoenix Buchanan, in a fuzzy way, is presented to match the specifics of the type of characters that Hugh Grant has been famous for playing, as well as what perhaps might be going through Grant's mind behind the scenes. On the surface, Buchanan is an awkward but endearing actor: the Hugh Grant we normally see on screen. But beneath the surface, Buchanan wrestles with self-loathing and narcissism, a sort of harsh outlook on what Hugh Grant may be struggling with on some days. This is all secretly packaged within a family film about a friendly, Peruvian bear.
- Paddington 2's screenplay nicely branches out to give us a better look into the lives of just about every character involved. We watch Mr. Brown go through a midlife crisis after he is not selected as the Head of Risk Analysis at work, taking up yoga classes to help put his mind and body at ease. We learn that Judy Brown (Madeleine Harris) got dumped by Tony, her supposed boyfriend from the first film. She decides to create her own newspaper brand, which becomes helpful in the Browns' efforts in catching the book thief. Mrs. Brown takes up swimming, and Jonathan Brown (Samuel Joslin) takes up an interest in steam engines (both of which become helpful to the plot later on). Paddington is in prison for the majority of the film's run time, meaning he shares little to no time in the film physically with the Brown family. The physical separation between Paddington and the Brown family help us better see into the lives of each Brown family member, as well as how Paddington, even in prison, proves Aunt Lucy's advice: "If we are kind and polite, the world will be right."
- Once again, the villain is given a motivation that we as the audience can understand and get behind, and it helps sell Phoenix Buchanan as more than just a greedy, petty thief. We learn that Buchanan's career has been in a slump, having recently starred in nothing but a series of dog food commercials. When Buchanan learns of the pop-up books' whereabouts, he sees the book as his golden ticket to a new start. He's sick and tired of his current situation, and the secret treasure is what will get him back on track.
- For the sake of being kind of goofy, Paddington 2 boasts a series of implausible plot points that just can't be bought into. The big one is the massive transformation that the prison goes under after Paddington serves delicious marmalade sandwiches to all of the other inmates (who all show their approval of the sandwiches with silly, over-the-top mmmmmmmm's). The gray, depressing jail turns into something representing a colorful bakery, which would only make sense if all of the inmates were PG-friendly, because, y'know, real life criminals would totally approve of their jail cells looking like a 10 year old girl's bedroom. Then there's the sequence near the end in which the Brown family needs to catch the train that Paddington and Phoenix Buchanan are on. Remember when I said that Jonathan Brown became interested in steam engines? Yeah, so the Brown family somehow finds another train to board, and Jonathan has little to no trouble operating it. You can either just accept it as is or shout at the screen, "No way! That just cannot happen!"
Between the two films, I have to give the slight edge to the first Paddington when it comes to assessing which one I think is better. But that is not to diminish any of the good things that Paddington 2 offers, which offers a lot of good things. The charm and the humor are back full force, with a quality story and another pleasant villain to boost. The plot may get a little absurd at times, but it's all meant to be goofy fun. Following up on Paddington was going to be quite the difficult task, but Paddington 2 shows it was more than up to the challenge.
Recommend? Yes, but make sure to watch Paddington first
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