"If we are kind and polite, the world will be right." - Paddington Brown
There is such an essential goodness contained within Paddington 2, the extraordinary sequel to the equally extraordinary Paddington, that it's almost impossible to describe this warm n' fuzzy feeling that dwells deep within my heart several hours after having sat amidst a far too small community of moviegoers to watch this most exceptional Peruvian-born, London-dwelling bear with the blue coat and floppy ol' hat that somehow taps into a part of me that I set aside, or thought I set aside, many years ago.
If you've been a reader of mine for any length of time, then you already know that I fancy myself a huge fan of the original Paddington and was dismayed, actually horrified, that the film didn't garner awards season attention.
Yes, Paddington was truly that good.
Paddington 2 is, quite perhaps, even better.
It wasn't even five minutes into Paddington 2 that I felt a certain moisture welling up around my eyes, an opening scene immediately immersing me in Paddington's world and immediately reminding me of everything I'd adored about the original film. It is a rare film that can elicit a true sense of immersive, enveloping innocence yet Paul King, who wrote/directed Paddington, has done it once again as co-writer (with Simon Farnaby) and director of Paddington 2. Without compromising Paddington creator Michael Bond's childlike wonder and British sensibilities, King has crafted a wondrous film that had me smiling and laughing and, yes, crying from beginning to end of this most lovely and wonderful creation.
Does the film defy logic? Of course it does. We're talking about a CGI-bear plopped down into the middle of a very real family and a very real neighborhood. The situation is absolutely, awesomely preposterous as is the presence of yet another supreme baddie in an otherwise almost uncommonly good neighborhood that feels like the kind of place where Mister Rogers would be right at home.
I loved every minute of it.
It's incredibly refreshing, and far more common in British cinema than American cinema, to have a children's film that both caters to childhood innocence and wonder while also talking up to a child's intellect and ability to understand. While the CGI effects are incredibly dazzling, rather soulful actually, Paddington 2 is a brilliant film precisely because King and Farnaby have crafted a simple, brilliant story with simple, brilliant characters who come to life in glorious ways.
It saddens me that, once again, Warner Brothers has barely given the Paddington universe a push here in the U.S. with the film opening up just after awards season and barely even taking advantage of one of its key stars, Sally Hawkins, being a likely Oscar nominee for her work in The Shape of Water. If you've never been convinced that Hawkins is one of the most gifted actresses working today, you need only watch three of her films from the past year - Maudie, The Shape of Water, and now Paddington 2.
Quite simply, she is extraordinary.
Paddington 2 is absolutely the perfect film for the post-holiday cinematic season that normally trudges out the dreck that couldn't be released any other time of year. To call Paddington 2 the best new release of 2018 so far is a massive understatement, it's vastly superior to a good number of films destined for awards contention.
While Paddington 2 takes advantage of contemporary technology, the film is extraordinarily classic in its vibe and sensibilities with inspired wordplay that commands your attention and complex yet accessible scenes that build upon one another and pay-off time and time and time again.
It would be an absolute shame to spoil any of Paddington 2's glorious surprises, but suffice it to say that Paddington, once again perfectly voiced by Ben Whishaw, has seemingly found himself a happy home with Henry (Hugh Bonneville) and Mary (Sally Hawkins) along with their two children, Judy (Madeleine Harris) and Jonathan (Samuel Joslin), the latter whose now at that stage of the teens where he's trying to assume coolness as J-Dog. Or is it J-Dogg?
As you may remember from the original film, Paddington's Aunt Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton) has shipped herself off to a Peruvian retirement home. Paddington has himself worked up into a tizzy wanting to find just the right present to express his gratitude to Aunt Lucy as she arrives at her 100th birthday, a present that sort of, well, presents itself in the form of an antique pop-up book about London that Paddington hopes will give Aunt Lucy the view of London she sacrificed for his welfare many years ago.
I have to stop right here and let you know that even as I'm writing this tears are forming in my eyes, so beautifully realized are these scenes around giving, loving one another, necessary sacrifice, and choosing to do the right thing. Are these familiar children's film themes? Yep, but they've seldom been presented as intelligently and honestly as they are presented here.
Okay, back to the story.
While Paddington gets busy trying to earn enough to buy Aunt Lucy his present, a seemingly innocent encounter with former acting legend turned dog food commercial star Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant) changes everything. The long story short is that Paddington finds himself, as is evident from the film's trailers, imprisoned alongside the likes of Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson), T-Bone (Tom Davis), Double Bass Bob (Emeson Nwolie), Mad Dog (Deepak Anand) and others and wondering if he will ever see the Brown family again.
If I had one beef with Paddington, it would be that Nicole Kidman's Millicent wasn't particularly well developed and was played out as more of a cartoonish baddie than an actual baddie. Hugh Grant's Phoenix Buchanan, on the other hand, never plays a true heavy but actually looks, feels and acts like an actual baddie. Grant, who's long had a bit of a reputation for being an almost cartoonish bad boy, gives his most satisfying performance in years here and it's rather amazing to watch Grant completely cut loose in a way we haven't seen in quite some time.
The even greater joy, which friend and fellow critic Evan Dossey also pointed out, is that Paddington 2 never asks Paddington to give up his unbridled optimism and belief in goodness in order to defeat the baddie. It's exactly why the Brown's neighborhood has fallen in love with Paddington - he is absolute, uncompromised and unwavering goodness and that's ultimately what saves him time and time and time again in Paddington 2.
Oh god, there go the tears again. Seriously.
In short, I loved Paddington 2. I loved everything about Paddington 2, from Ben Whishaw whimsically informed vocal work to Sally Hawkins' embrace of the absurd with unabashed sentimentality to Hugh Grant's grounded yet cheeky badness and so many inspired, wondrously created and intelligent, entertaining scenes that hardly a moment goes by in Paddington 2 that I wasn't laughing or crying or sniffling or just plain being immersed in the world of this beautiful little bear that had me believing, truly believing that if we are kind and polite, the world will be right.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic