The bear necessities
Feb 10, 2018-Put your paws together and welcome back Paddington, our favourite furry Peruvian bear who returns in his second film outing after making his debut on the big screen in 2014. It gives me great pleasure to report that the new, albeit none-too-imaginatively named Paddington 2—once again directed and co-written by Paul King (The Mighty Boosh)—is just as effective as its predecessor, well capturing the delightful whimsy, humor and sheer generosity of spirit of the source material, ie the series of classic children’s books by Michael Bond dating back to the late 50s. Unlike many other sequels to successful properties that are obvious cash grabs, this iteration feels like a natural, even necessary extension of the previous story, and is good enough to stand on its own.
After that bit of rough patch he went through in the first film trying to adjust to his new life in London with the Browns—comprising Mary (Sally Hawkins), her husband Henry (Hugh Bonneville), their two children Judy and Jonathan (Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin), and housekeeper Mrs Bird (Julie Waters)—Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) has now well and truly settled in. In fact, he’s become something of a neighbourhood treasure thanks to his ever-polite and oh-so-helpful attitude—although that darned Mr Curry (Peter Capaldi) won’t cease his dark mutterings about the dangers of trusting a foreign creature. But Curry is thankfully outnumbered by those who believe Paddington to be the best thing since sliced bread (heaped with marmalade, he’d no doubt insist). That peaceful existence, however, is about to receive a rude jolt.
It all starts when Paddington comes across a seemingly innocuous vintage pop-up book of London sights at the antique shop owned by the kindly Mr Gruber (Jim Broadbent). With his Aunt Lucy’s (Imelda Staunton) 100th birthday coming up, and given that she has never been to London, Paddington decides the book would make the perfect gift for the mama bear who took him in as a cub in Peru and raised him to be who he is today. As it turns out, though, others have their eye on the prize too—namely, one Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), an actor struggling to come to terms with his fading fame, who appears to know something about the book that Paddington doesn’t, and is eager to get his hands on it. Buchanan proceeds to steal the item from the shop and while trying to stop him, it’s Paddington who gets arrested and charged with the crime, his appearance rendering him an easy suspect. As he tries to make the most of his time in the dinghy slammer, in the company of criminals of all shapes, sizes and dispositions, the Browns must do all they can to collect evidence against Buchanan and prove Paddington’s innocence.
Much like the first film, Paddington 2 follows a fairly rudimentary structure, with very few surprises, plot-wise at least, along the way. But it’s in the detailing that it truly shines, the little jokes and asides that have been packed into scenes. And then there’s the sheer niceness running through the whole enterprise—and mind you, this isn’t the cloying, affected kind of mawkishness that many a children’s film is known to peddle, but a deeper commitment to goodness, an absence of cynicism so total and complete that more than just a matter of tone, it’s practically a full-blown ethos unto itself. With the result that the film feels like a much-needed tonic for these parlous times, making a case for valuing decency and kindness and basic civility over all else.
And while the target audience might not necessarily make the connection, adult viewers will not be able to help drawing parallels between the film’s depiction of prejudice against foreigners or racial or cultural minorities—as represented by our titular bear—and the real-world spike in xenophobic rhetoric in far too many contexts. If the previous film homed in more specifically on the problem of displacement and the struggles of immigrants and refugees, this one calls out systemic bias and racism within law enforcement and other institutions, another hot button issue.
There are also, of course, aesthetic pleasures to be had here. The very fact that we accept Paddington’s existence in this world so easily, that he—a creature born entirely of CGI—should so convincingly blend into the live-action settings is in itself a triumph of digital artistry. And it doesn’t end there: Paddington 2 has much more in store, all kinds of gorgeous vintage-inspired set-pieces and inventive action sequences—including a Wes Anderson-style prison-cafeteria scene, a Modern Times-inspired ride through the giant cogs of machinery and a hilarious window-cleaning stint, among others. Top prize, however, goes to a short gem of an animated sequence wherein the pages of the pop-up book come alive, with Paddington and Aunt Lucy strolling through the major sights of London—a beautifully-rendered hand-crafted paper world.
The only downside for me here is Hugh Grant’s over-the-top, campy-for-camp’s-sake performance. Much as I’d felt about Nicole Kidman’s similarly exaggerated portrayal of the main baddie in the film before this one, Grant doesn’t fully register in the role—for all the effort he puts in, the actor never quite manages to disappear into the character. But he’s thankfully the only anomaly in an otherwise top-notch cast: Bonneville, his Henry now going through a midlife crisis, is still wonderfully, hilariously stodgy; Hawkins absolutely radiates warmth and compassion; and Whishaw’s voice confers upon our hero just the right degree of sweet earnestness. And watch out for Brendan Gleeson’s delightful turn as Knuckles McGinty, the cook at the prison who could very much do with some anger management classes.
If you’ve seen the first Paddington, I doubt I’ll need to do much to convince you to see this second installment. If you’re new to the whole franchise, however, I’d advise you to make some time and dive right in, particularly if you have kids of your own or around you to take along.
Director: Paul King
Actors: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant, Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville
Genre: Animated/Live-action children’s comedy
Published: 10-02-2018 08:24