This will be the last installment of Second Chance Sundays. Starting next week we will be reviewing new movies that have been released via streaming services. Wednesdays, however, will still be “Whatever Wednesdays”. PPS – This is going up on Monday as the Fandomentals spent Sunday shutdown in support of Black Lives Matter.
Paddington 2 is the rare film whose capacity for love and empathy is as great as its artistic sensibilities. I have seen it dozens of times and can watch it a dozen more. Visually imaginative and alive it never allows its aesthetic to smother out its heart.
Paul King’s second film is damn near perfect.
Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) is framed by down and out actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant) for stealing a pop-up book from Mister Gruber (Jim Broadbent). We discover the pop-up book is a treasure map and off we go across London in search of clues. At least Phoenix does, Paddington goes to jail.
King and Simon Farnaby’s script is remarkably tight. Despite its tightness though it is positively bursting with something to say both from a political standpoint and a human one. It is a remarkable juggling of ideas and themes in such a seamless way as to be bordering on dark alchemy.
While Paddington does what Paddington does, making friends wherever he goes, the Browns set about trying to clear his name. Mr. Brown (Hugh Bonneville) and Mrs. Brown (Sally Hawkins) lead the charge for Paddington’s innocence. Their children Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) and Judy (Madeline Harris), along with their maid Mrs. Bird (Jule Walters) set about spying on Phoenix and discover what he’s really been up to.
Paddington 2 is a visual delight that somehow keeps the movie fresh on every re-watch. Erik Wilson is King’s cameraman, and together they weave together a series of images at home in the silent films of Georges Melies. Melies, like other silent filmmakers of his time, was less interested in narratives than they were in presenting illusions that told stories. King and Wilson’s frames are steeped in the silent era, not just in homages, but in style and practice.
Everything from the way they transition from one scene to the next to the way they allow reality and fantasy to merge effortlessly comes together in what is a singular cinematic experience. The images of Paddington 2 seem almost dreamlike at times and yet are never confusing or muddled. King and Wilson’s camera work is sharp and crisp allowing for tight comedic set-ups and languid soul-searing emotionalism.
Allegorical metaphors can be dangerous though by oversimplifying issues that are in fact much more complicated. Paddington is clearly a metaphor for the immigrant experience even so much as he is presumed guilty before being proved innocent. Yet, the Browns themselves are a well to do white family and Paddington is the unfortunate “perfect ideal”.
That said, this is a kid’s movie; which is important to remember. Paddington’s mantra, “If we are kind and polite, the world will be right,” is meant for kids-not adults. Much like the oft quote from Fred Rogers, “Look for the helpers,” it is easy to misconstrue the movie’s plea for empathy and kindness. It is meant for kids but also as a reminder that the kids are looking to us.
Upon arriving at the prison Paddington is met with coldness and menace. It’s not until he starts making friends in a way that only a talking bear can, that the atmosphere begins to change. So often we see prisoners dehumanized both in films and the news. But King and Farnaby slyly show us the distant aloofness of his fellow inmates melting away just by including them.
It’s a fairy tale to be sure but fairy tales exist not to tell us the existence of dragons but that the dragons can be slain. Monsters exist and men can do great harm. But Paddington 2 lovingly reminds us, it doesn’t have to be so.
Like all fairy tales, there is great action and derring-do. The climactic train chase at the end pulls the neat hat trick of resolving every single narrative arc in addition to just being dang blasted good time. Thrilling and vibrant the chase scene is one of the best action climaxes this side of a John Wick movie.
On this particular re-watch however, I discovered I am apparently incapable of not being moved to tears by a computer-generated bear trying to get a birthday present for his Aunt Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton). A fact for which I am forever grateful.
Paddington 2 reaches out and hugs you in a way few films ever have the warmth or heart to do. King’s relentless humanism reminds us that we must be the light we wish to see in the world. Being kind is hard and being cruel is easy, and the work is never done.