As far as live-action films for young kids released in the last decade go, there’s Paddington, and there’s everything else.
Seriously, Paddington is a pitch-perfect demonstration of how to make a great film for all ages. The story is bright and engaging, with enough stakes to create momentum, but not so much as to make it inappropriate for young kids. The humor is clearly aimed at children, but with plenty of jokes aimed for adults that don’t rely on innuendo or pop culture references. The cast is filled with heavy hitters who all know exactly what kind of film they’re making, and they take the work seriously. And while there may be an understandable concern that a sequel might not be able to keep up, Paddington 2 is the rare sequel that matches, and perhaps even surpasses, its predecessor.
Paddington (Ben Whishaw) is now happily settled into life with the Brown family, and he’s become a popular member of the community of Windsor Gardens. While searching through Mr. Gruber’s antique shop for a present for his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday, Paddington discovers a one-of-a-kind pop-up book of London that makes for the perfect gift. Since the book costs £1000, Paddington begins to perform different jobs throughout the neighborhood to buy the book. The night before Paddington’s ready to buy it, he goes with the Browns to a carnival, where he encounters a once-popular actor named Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant). Paddington mentions the book to Buchanan, who recognizes that the book is worth far more than £1000. Later that night, the book is stolen, and Paddington is framed for the crime. While Paddington has to survive in prison, the Browns work to find the real thief.
One of the keys to the success of Paddington 2 is how strongly it demonstrates Paddington’s belief that kindness and goodness can make things right. It’s such an earnest idea, and one that the film embraces wholeheartedly. Paddington is a kind, good-natured bear, and in this film’s universe, that kindness is infectious. Even with Paddington going to prison, the presence of Paddington turns the prison into something that came out of a Wes Anderson film (complete with prison uniforms that turn pink thanks to Paddington and an errant red sock).
The entire cast is tremendous, but special attention must be made to Hugh Grant’s turn as Phoenix Buchanan. Like Nicole Kidman in Paddington, Grant takes to this villainous supporting turn with ease, creating a character that’s menacing while also feeling appropriately fun and engaging. The performance has earned Grant a well-earned BAFTA nomination already, and it’s further proof after his turn in Florence Foster Jenkins that his post-leading man days are going to be a lot of fun.
I know, it’s easy to be cynical these days. Paddington 2 is a welcome break from that cynicism, and a wonderful reminder that there’s something worthwhile about being polite and good. It’s also the kind of film that won’t just leave you with a smile on your face as you leave the theater – it’ll leave you beaming.