In times such as these, it can be difficult to remember what the words “please” and “thank you” even sound like. Politeness seems in dangerously short supply these days, which is why we need the Paddington movies now more than ever. The 2015 original was a delightful shock to the system, not just for jaded film bloggers tired of covering talking animal movies, but for folks ground down by a ceaseless stream of “family” entertainment with a mean streak. Kids deserve better movies than they’re getting, and Paul King’s Paddington adaptation showed the way. King returns to direct Paddington 2, and while the story is flimsier than the original, it loses none of its kind-hearted charm.
This time around, Paddington (a CG bear voiced by Ben Whishaw) is busy raising money to buy his Aunt Lucy a rare pop-up book of London for her birthday. Before he can buy it, maniacal actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant) steals the book and frames Paddington for the crime. The book is actually a treasure map, and Buchanan uses his vast array of costumes and accents to con his way into the whereabouts of that treasure. While the Brown family (Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, et al.) work to catch Buchanan redhanded, Paddington spends his time in prison charming his fellow inmates into making their drab surroundings more colorful and pleasant. This culminates in teaching disgruntled prison chef Knuckles (Brendan Gleeson) the wonders of marmalade.
We’re treated early and often to montages of Paddington working hard to make his neighborhood a brighter place. He begins by washing windows, whether people want him to or not. King has fun with these sequences, illustrating the Rube Goldberg contraptions that Paddington employs to get the job done. He goes further, illustrating the full cause and effect of Paddington’s actions. His ladder and pulley get the windows washed, but washing windows helps bring people together, as a shut-in looks out his now-clean windows and notices the woman working across the street. A romance is born thanks to a CGI bear’s desire to help his neighbors.
That desire filters down throughout the rest of the film, as one by one, scene by scene, Paddington’s outlook on life turns the grey darkness into a colorful showcase of positive energy. The prison sequences crib a few design notes from Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel, particularly as Paddington & Co. make their escape. The prison set opens up like a doll house as we see the pink-hued prisoners entire escape play out in cross-section. It’s an effect we saw at work in the first film, but it’s played up to much greater effect this time around. Equally inspired is King’s use of animation to bring Paddington’s pop-up book to life.
More than a design choice, though, Paddington 2 seems in direct conversation with Anderson’s film. Grand Budapest saw Anderson lamenting the decline of civilized society, mocking M. Gustave as much as it endorsed his worldview. Anderson tends to get nostalgic, not only for 50s and 60s kitsch culture, but for a more Victorian era in general. Grand Budapest in particular glorifies “good old days” that perhaps never were. In the eyes of Paul King and the Paddington films, those days could be these days if only we’d put in the effort.
When confronted at one point, Paddington offers up the words of his Aunt Lucy: “If we’re kind and polite, the world will be right.” His kind words and polite actions soon bear fruit, as his prison surroundings soon turn into a delightful tea room, albeit one with a strictly enforced curfew where the warden reads everyone a bedtime story. It’s weird that a children’s film about a talking bear would be the one to take Wes Anderson to task for not keeping the faith, but there it is.
It is heartening to see kindness rewarded. That’s honestly my best guess as to why I find these films so darn charming. Paddington 2 is a slight, silly film, but one produced with so much joy and care that it’s hardly a complaint. It’s just as much fun watching Hugh Grant engage in some grand buffoonery as it is seeing montages of Paddington work his tail off to a delightful calypso soundtrack. Please, continue to look after this bear. The fate of the polite world may well hang in the balance.Liked This? Share It!