I’m still not quite over how much I enjoyed 2014’s Paddington movie. In a time when a lot of kids movies are pretty shallow, soulless cash grabs (I’m looking at you, The Emoji Movie), it’s difficult to expect much. But I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Paul King’s adaptation of the beloved children’s books met the high watermark of the likes of The Lego Movie or Toy Story. It was visually stylish, heartwarming without feel sickly sweet, and the narrative of a little lost bear being welcomed into a London family became a moving and much needed allegory for the Refugee crisis that the UK was facing at the time.
An uninspired, easy-to-make follow up to the movie would have been an obvious and easy choice: hire any old hack director and just repeat the jokes people liked in the first movie. But Paddington 2 is not that: it far surpasses the original, taking the humour, charm and warmth all to the next level in one of the most heartwarming films of the decade.
One of the most interesting things about this sequel is that it chooses to be smaller, rather than bigger than its predecessor. The first movie wasn’t exactly an Avengers-level affair, but it’s antagonist had her eyes set on turning little Paddington into a museum piece; it was well-conceived and it worked, but it still felt a little out of place compared to the rest of the film. While the sequel has plenty of silly capers and fun shenanigans, it all feels like a natural part of the world of Paddington, and the balance between threat and silliness is much better in this film. The bad guy this time around is Phoenix Buchanan, the outrageously (and hilariously) self-absorbed actor on the hunt for a treasure that would foot the bill for his return to the stage. He’s played by Hugh Grant, who sells every last morsel of Buchanan’s pompous ego, and he’s great fun to watch without every stepping too far into serious villainy.
It might seem a little counter intuitive to praise a film for having a less threatening villain, but it works perfectly for this film. The plot of Paddington 2 is simply that Paddington wants to find the perfect birthday present for his aunt in Peru, whom he wishes could come and visit him in London. That’s it. Buchanan’s farfetched scheme to find a lost treasure is simply a roadblock in that path; the pop-up book of London memorials that Paddington has his eye on is integral to Buchanan’s scheme, so he steals it and frames Paddington for the robbery, which lands the poor soul in prison.
While this sets up an interesting plot fairly well, it also allows the film to show off its most heartwarming and charming asset: Paddington himself (voiced by the pitch perfect Ben Wishaw). There is not a single malicious, uncaring, or impolite hair on that little bear’s head. His willingness to always look to the goodness in the world has made him the life and soul of the street he lives on (there’s even a beautiful shot of him literally brightening someone’s day by cleaning their windows), and even in prison he’s able to turn the hardened frowns of criminals into delighted, childlike smiles. This film doesn’t pretend that people are never bad, but it also never fails to find the goodness in them, the willingness to be better. Peter Capaldi’s Mr Curry is just as cold to him as he was the first time round, but he’s easily defeated by the loving community that will stop at nothing to be there for Paddington. Moreso than in any other story I’ve seen in years, love and compassion win the day in this film. It’s a breath of fresh air that the world sorely needs right now, and it’s through this that Paddington 2 is just as relevant as its predecessor was in 2014. We could all learn from the childlike excitement and Paddington bear, and we could all stand to be as welcoming and caring as the Brown family that took him in.
This film could so easily have been a write-off, a thoughtless cash-in on the surprise success of the first film. But it wasn’t that at all; this was made out of love. You can hear it in Ben Whishaw’s vocal performance for Paddington. You can see it in the passionate, energetic performances of the returning cast. And you can feel it in every emotional turn the film takes. Paddington 2 far surpasses most, perhaps all, of the children’s films of the last few years, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone at all (no matter how old) who needs something to feel good about. You simply can’t spend a day with Paddington and come away without shedding your grumpiness, whether you’re in the film or watching it.