Let me start by saying that I often find children’s movies and animated stories terribly boring and tedious. Too many seem to feel compelled to include crude humor and sexual innuendos to appeal to any adults who watch these films with their children, thus flattening the script to a pathetic blend of lame one-liners or unending destructive action. Paddington 2 is so refreshingly different. Not only does the storyline move with poetic beauty, but the subtly profound message washes over you like a warm stream giving that pleasant feeling of delight, and as Hugh Bonneville says who plays Mr. Brown, “Coming out of the film people feel a little better about the world.”
Since 1958, Michael Bond’s stories of Paddington bear have been beloved by children of the British Isles and around the world through the charmingly playful adventures of a small cub who loves marmalade and is adopted by the Brown family in London. Since the film Paddington and now the sequel Paddington 2 this little bear’s effervescent personality and meticulous good manners endear him to all who encounter him. His personal motto of looking for the good in everyone provides a lovable example for children and adults as well. The masterful CGI effects make him as multi-dimensional a character as the real-life actors providing whole-scale involvement of the audience in his zany escapades.
Paddington 2 stars many of the same actors as the first movie, such as Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins as Mr. and Mrs. Brown, but adds the multi-dimensional character Phoenix Buchanan, a washed up actor become villain, brilliantly played by Hugh Grant. When Paddington (voiced by Ben Wishaw) wants to find his Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) a special present for her 100th birthday he discovers a masterful pop-up book of London in Mr. Gruber’s antique store. Realizing he cannot afford to buy it he takes on odd jobs to make enough money to purchase this rare treasure. However, when Phoenix hears of this valuable, long-lost book that holds the key to a hidden treasure, he devises ways to steal it using a myriad of disguises, including hiding out in a convent dressed as a nun!
Paddington is wrongly accused of stealing the book from the store and ends up in jail. Writers, Simon Farnaby and Paul King, who is also the director, see this story as a family-friendly film teaching the basics of courtesy and respect for others, somewhat of an anomaly in film these days. While in jail, Paddington meets the ferocious prison cook, Knuckles (Brendan Gleeson) whose tough exterior masks a tender heart. Paddington insists he is innocent, so Knuckles and his friends find a way to help Paddington escape. Reluctant to do something so devious, Paddington goes along only to find out their plot involved more than proving his innocence. This little bear risks capture by the police in order to go to the Browns for help to fight for justice. A creative exploration into Phoenix Buchanan ensues.
One of the most memorable scenes in the film displays Grant’s theatrical abilities. While in his room, he imagines his new one-man show that will make him famous because the pop-up book he stole provides him with the funds to revive his pathetic career. With mannequins surrounding him dressed as Shakespearean actors, Phoenix dialogues with himself in rapid succession using lines and accents of these various characters. I was thoroughly delighted and entertained by Grant’s amazing abilities.
Besides the cleverness of the characters and smoothness of the script, the overall point of the film remains: love thy neighbor. This Gospel maxim insistently comes forward in the film without being overdone. The numerous religious references in the film, with St. Paul’s Cathedral being prominent, support this message and are only reinforced through the sweet and kind personality of Paddington. This is what a wholesome children’s story should really be about—providing values that are imitable and livable through ingenious imagination. This is one family film not to be missed, for our society needs courtesy and kindness now more than ever.