The world can be cruel. But we can choose to be better. As Paddington declares, “If we are kind and polite, the world will be right.” This may sound like a childish adage. But through Paddington 2 it proves not just a rejuvenating message of hope, but also an aspirational challenge to its audience. True to its deeply delightful predecessor, this sensational sequel offers a rollicking adventure, full of heart, color, whimsy, and pitch-perfect comedy. But more than that, it’ll inspire you to be a better person.
With Paddington 2, writer-director Paul King returns, and picks up Paddington’s story a couple of years after he found his forever home with the loving Browns. The children have grown up a bit. Judy (Madeleine Harris) now sports a moody beret and self-publishes a newspaper, while Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) hides his love of engineering to seem cool to peers who know him as “J-Dog.” Mother Mary (Sally Hawkins) is pursuing an adventure of her own, while father Henry’s (Hugh Bonneville) mid-life crisis has pitched him into hair-dyeing and a yoga variant called, “chakra-batics.” Meanwhile, Paddington (voiced once more by Ben Whishaw) finds a job, so he can purchase a rare pop-up book as a birthday gift for his beloved Aunt Lucy. But things go wildly awry—as tends to happen when Paddington is about—when the pop-up book is stolen and the lovable bear is framed for the crime!
Yes. Amid action sequences of high-flying shenanigans, barbershop silliness, and breathtaking escapes, Paddington 2 pitches its furry hero into prison, where he makes friends with snarling convicts named T-Bone and Knuckles McGinty (a playfully gruff Brendan Gleeson). And when the Browns team up to clear his good name, they’ll cross swords with a conceited and villainous has-been actor named Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant).
I realize it sounds like I’m giving away ALL the plot. But worry not! Most of the above is revealed in act one, including Buchanan’s nefariousness. Which allows this jubilant romp to buoyantly bounce from Paddington’s surprisingly adorable prison misadventures to the Browns’ eager yarn-walling, to Grant in a garishly over-the-top performance, that feels deliciously meta. There’s a winking pleasure in him playing a past-his-prime star so arrogant and snitty. With a broad smile and a roguish allure, Grant seems to relish every cheeky joke, and every costume change. And with Lindy Hemming’s vibrant plaids, who could blame him?
It’s an incredible feat that Paddington 2 manages to create a villain as wild and fun as the first film’s stylish taxidermist (Nicole Kidman). And Grant makes it look easy. But he’s helped by a cast glowing with charisma and totally on board to be a part of Paddington’s wondrous London, where stray dogs can be ridden like noble steeds, bear backsides make for great window washers, and hardened criminals’ hearts can be won over with marmalade.
The Brown clan is once more warm, wonderful, and sweetly hilarious whether they’re bickering over the breakfast table or hijacking a high-speed train. And fans of British television will be thrilled to see some of their favorite faces, like Doctor Who’s Peter Capaldi, Spaced’s Jessica Hynes, Chewing Gum’s Shola Adewusi, The IT Crowd’s Richard Ayoade, and Absolutely Fabulous’s Joanna Lumley. But best of all is Whishaw, whose playful voice plays so perfectly within this joyful little bear that it’s easy to forget Paddington isn’t real. Which also speaks to the magnificent animation that brings him to life, seamlessly interacting with his live-action co-stars.
When it comes to comedy, Paddington 2 draws inspiration from Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, both who gets nods in this with allusions to The General and Modern Times. An electric razor or a simple bucket can be the centerpiece for comedic brilliance. You can see King’s attention to detail, as each beat in a bit mounts, and mounts, brewing tension for an audience that knows hilarious calamity is just around the corner. We are chuffed with anticipation. And when it arrives with panache and slapstick, we explode with a full-bodied roar of laughter. It’s rapturous fun, and a far more structured and sophisticated school of comedy than most kids movies endeavor.
Perhaps best of all, Paddington 2 picks up where the first film left off thematically. Though Brexit is never mentioned, the cantankerous Mr. Curry (Capaldi) stands in for its anti-immigrant sentiment. As he did in the first film, Curry rants about this fuzzy foreigner, and tries to turn the neighborhood against Paddington. But the sequel scoffs at his xenophobic bluster, and proudly presents London as a place of diversity, casting people of color as Paddington’s neighbors, friends, and prison warden. More importantly, it shows Paddington, the Browns, and all their neighbors—regardless of color, gender, or quirk—as part of one caring community that falls or thrives together. This message comes to a point when Mr. Brown shoots back at Curry’s racist prattle, “Paddington looks for the good in all of us, and somehow he finds it.” And there, right there, is the film’s challenge to its viewers: to look for the good in others, and to live up to the good others see in you.
All in all, Paddington 2 is a stellar comedy with smart setups, superb payoffs, and belly-rocking laughs. It’s a thrilling and whimsical adventure that will have your heart soaring. It’s a heart-warming parable about rising above, and being your best. It’s so much more than a kids movie. It’s a film so spectacularly cinematic, joyful, and poignant that you won’t want to miss.
One last thing: There’s a lot of throwback jokes to the first film. So do yourself a favor, and revisit Paddington on Netflix first, to make the most of the second. Also, stay through the credits of Paddington 2. To leave before means missing some truly silly wordplay and a bonkers musical number.