Directed by Paul King
Written by Paul King and Simon Farnaby
While released in its native England at the end of 2017, I will be considering Paddington 2 as a 2018 release here in the United States. This seems a rather pedantic thing to note at the beginning of a review of a charming children’s movie, but for the life of me I cannot find joy in the beginning of 2018 in movies, so I must latch on to this one fleeting reassurance that the year in movies will in fact be fruitful, and full of charming, delightful, and entertaining movies. My first 2018 review, of Liam Neeson’s new film The Commuter, certainly gives me no solace. Lo, but Paddington is here to save the day. This film could have literally been anything so long as that charming bear voiced by Ben Whishaw returned to bring a smile to my face. And indeed that is what Paddington 2 has done: returned to bring a smile to my face.
Paddington was such a charming film, a smaller film that seemed to fly under the radar in 2015 because while it was delightful, entertaining, and endlessly watchable, it was also not important, ground breaking, or any other superlative which tends to create a hullabaloo. Here, the titular bear, voiced by Ben Whishaw, returns with his family the Browns (Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville). With his Aunt Lucy’s birthday coming up, Paddington has his eye on an old pop-up book made by a steam fair innovator which chronicles London. But short on money, he must work to earn enough to purchase it. Then, one night, the book is stolen from the shop and Paddington is blamed. He must fight for his freedom by befriending his fellow inmates in prison while the Browns search for the real culprit in the crime.
Much of what made Paddington a success returns here in the sequel, including the undeniable charm and politeness of the bear. Honestly, the best bits of this film are simply Paddington interacting with other people. He is so positive, supportive and perhaps most importantly curious. The way in which he makes friends with all sorts, including “hardened” criminals here, is so infectious it’s impossible to sit through this film with anything but a smile. Add to this the genre elements that Paul King and his writing partner Simon Farnaby instill in the film, from caper to jailbreak, etc., and the film becomes quite exciting and mysterious as well. It is a perfect introduction for young kids into these genres without being too violent or suspenseful. We come to appreciate Paddington all the more because of the horrible circumstance he finds himself in.
However, I actually found this film, at least narratively, to be below that of its original. I sure had a good time and enjoyed myself, it’s rather hard not to, but I found something lacking throughout the central portion of the film. I found it rather an odd choice to put Paddington in jail. Such a grisly place to put such a delightful character. And while the filmmakers manage to make the prison scenes soaring and entertaining, I believe it was more Paddington’s absence from solving his own crime that brought the film back just a notch. Leaving the Browns apart from Paddington seems like a mistake in that they just aren’t as interesting or entertaining on their own. This is really Paddington’s show, and any time we leave his side the film suffers as a result.
Eventually the two come together once more, and the ending is as heartfelt and moving as anything I suspect I will see all year. But this is an incomplete film. Regardless, it is an easy film to recommend, as I suspect you’d have to be rather hard of heart to fail to be taken by Paddington’s charms. The cast is brilliant, all the way down to a zany Hugh Grant, a gruff but lighthearted Brendan Gleeson, and the charming Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville and Julie Walters. It is a film which, I suspect, would be a welcome warm rewatch on any dreary day meant to spend inside. Paddington is the type of friend we all wished we could have. He is the type of friend we all wish we could be. He is the type of friend we will always and forever enjoy spending time with, even if it has to be as part of a movie. His company is appreciated regardless of format.