Paddington 2 is filled with love, adventure, hidden treasure, jailbreaks, and, of course, marmalade. Underneath all of this bubble are issues of alienation and immigration. All is done with the simple and sincere belief that there’s good in all of us, even in people named Nuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson).
A movie that people of all ages can enjoy is rare. But rarer still is a family movie so visually imaginative and achingly sincere. Paddington 2 is for all ages, but without clever innuendos or pop culture references, the little ones couldn’t possibly understand. Instead, Paddington 2 mixes in-jokes for everyone just by being clever and wry.
Based on a series of children’s books by Michael Bond, Paddington 2 walks a thin line between not being designed for a three-act structure and fitting perfectly in a three-act structure. Paddington 2 never feels padded or bloated, while at the same time, it’s not exactly a streamlined movie either.
Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) is trying to raise money to buy a pop-up book for his Aunt Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton). We soon discover Paddington’s beloved pop-up book is actually a treasure map. Written and illustrated by Madam Kozlova (Eileen Atkins), each page contains a clue to her hidden treasure.
Lesser filmmakers would have Paddington and his family, the Browns, traipsing about London in search of the treasure. Thankfully Paul King, and his co-writer, Simon Farnaby, understand that would undermine the very heart of Paddington. Paddington wants the book, not the treasure. The pop-up book is a collection of famous landmarks of London. Aunt Lucy has always wanted to come to London and so to Paddington, this is the next best thing.
Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), a hammy has-been actor, wants the treasure. He steals the book, frames Paddington, and goes about solving the clues. Poor Paddington is sent to prison. As he always does, he ends up making friends and making the place a little bit better than when he came in.
King, who directed the first Paddington, once again, somehow captures both the visual and emotional whimsy of being a child. With every shot, King imbues the story, and us, with a child’s faith in humanity and limitless imagination. Much like the books Paddington somehow or other manages to find himself in precarious situations. In King’s and his cameraman Erik Wilson’s hands, however, they have the sublime ingenuity of silent cinema.
Wilson’s camera seems alive as he and King frame scenes in such a way as to be almost revelatory. Still, it never pulls us out of the moment. Instead, we feel as if we ourselves are reading a children’s book, with each new frame being a new page. A feeling of playfulness begins to develop between us and Paddington 2. We begin to await each scene with something short of bated breath.
Refreshingly when Paddington is locked up, the Browns never despair nor believe Paddington is guilty. There is no third-act redemption needed because the mere notion of Paddington being a thief is ludicrous. Instead, they set to work trying to solve the case and clear his name.
Mary (Sally Hawkins) and Henry (Hugh Bonneville) put up posters of the real thief. Their daughter Judy (Madeleine Harris) has started up her own newspaper. She started the paper after her latest break up, replete with an old-style printing press. Judy begins to write a series of articles questioning Paddington’s guilt. Meanwhile, their son Jonathan (Samuel Joslin), an aficionado of steam engines, wants to help but wants to do so quietly. He is desperately trying to be cool, and being cool means not loving steam engines or trying to prove a bear’s innocence.
Paddington 2 is so delightful and yet infuriatingly difficult to describe. The difficulty comes from its simplicity. I’ve told you the gist of the plot, but it doesn’t convey the sheer fun of seeing Paddington try to cut an old man’s hair. Or the gush of joy in seeing prisoners stand up and confess to desserts they know how to bake.
Paddington reacts to everything and everyone with simple unconditional love. He reminds his neighbor Dr. Jafri (Sanjeev Bhaskar), not to forget his keys while also helping his garbage man study for his hack license. Paddington does miss his Aunt Lucy, though. While he loves the Browns and London, he is reminded how different he is. But King never allows this to be overtly broad. Paddington says, “My Aunt Lucy…” with a tinge of forlornness mixed with pride that boils down this complex and daunting theme into a simple and digestible emotion.
I haven’t even mentioned the breathless train chase with the Browns, the treasure, or the emotional climax that is so perfect in its visual construction it left me breathless. Paddington 2 will not solve all of humanity’s problems. But for a brief while, it allows us to hope and believe we can be half as lovely and kind as a little brown bear living in London.