by Ken Bakely
Even more clever, endearing, and entertaining than its predecessor, Paul King’s Paddington 2 furthers the argument of films ostensibly aimed at kids providing the greatest solvent against the harshness of our current times. From its colorful and inventive cinematography to its delicate blend of humor and messaging, the exemplary continued adventures of Paddington Bear (voice of Ben Whishaw) have rendered the CGI animal as one of the finest comic performers the movies have to offer right now. With his famed hat and raincoat, Paddington provides reassurance as the driving force behind his goofy personality. Now firmly settled in London with the Brown family, he prepares to send a birthday gift to his Aunt Lucy (voice of Imelda Staunton), and often repeats her motto, “If you’re kind and polite, the world will be right.”
It’s a mantra repeated out loud numerous times and enforced many more. Patience and kindness bring out the virtues in every character, used to highlight their talents and resolve each conflict. And the script, co-written by King and Simon Farnaby, is as skillful as it is thoughtful; it seamlessly fuses comfort, slapstick, symmetrical payoffs, and smooth plotting. Paddington’s intended gift – an old pop-up book of London landmarks – is expensive, and he saves up money by cleaning his neighbors’ windows, cheering up everyone but the eternally grouchy self-appointed watchman, Mr. Curry (Peter Capaldi). But Paddington’s efforts are stymied when Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), a narcissistic, washed-up actor, steals the valuable book from the antique shop in which it resides, and has the bear framed and imprisoned for the crime.
Of course, such a development allows us the chance to see Paddington to improve the inmates’ lives. A particularly joyful sequence depicts him teaching Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson), the hardened prison cook, how to make marmalade, instilling the value of cooperation while upgrading the quality of the canteen’s food. It’s representative of a recurring notion that King weaves throughout all of Paddington 2, from its gently diverse and postcard-gorgeous London to the deceptively soft lines of its underlying commentary: our differences are not points of contention, but rather ways that common objectives can be attained. Nothing in the film is accomplished without the goodwill and teamwork that’s made integral without force.
It’s all wrapped up in an immensely watchable package, as elaborate setpieces open up the film’s universe to new and expressive heights. The most notable introduction is Grant’s Phoenix Buchanan, whose hammy demeanor and slippery thievery establishes the actor as a great physical presence, delivering over-the-top villainy with remarkable dedication. Juxtapose him against Whishaw’s always-soothing voice work, and it’s a pitting of protagonist against antagonist that still maintains Paddington 2’s unending, playful compassion. A mid-credits sequence is both hilarious and humbling, creating an epilogue for the proceedings that reaffirms the movie’s lessons one last time. There isn’t one malicious note to be found in the script, and there’s nary a single stray element in the direction. There’s so much going on here that it would have seemed overstuffed in the hands of a less capable filmmaker. But King’s work is clear-headed and intricate. He handles every scene on its own merits, streamlining tone while managing setups and devices in a transitional background. This is all the more impressive when one considers that the primary audience is children, who are so often underserved by other movies.
The world could use more Paddingtons (or rather, more Paddingtons). Goals are accomplished in refreshingly simple and uncynical ways. It’s the most pure and genuine set of affectations that one could expect from a film where the main character is a completely animated creation. The movie is watchful enough to keep all its technical and narrative plates spinning, and deliberate enough to avoid cloying, excessive sermonizing. How fitting is it that Paddington Bear has an iconic affinity for orange marmalade? It’s tart but sweet, taking disparate parts and mixing them together to create a result that couldn’t have been possible individually. There’s no better description for both Paddington 2’s thematic heart and filmmaking achievements.