FILM REVIEW: PADDINGTON 2 Is A Politely Joyous Adventure
Paddington Bear is an impossibly polite bear. That is saying a lot given that he is also a British bear, so the nice modality should be redundant. But he is also a clever little fiend, and it is the combination of those two qualities that he will need to employ to outsmart the scoundrels in his upcoming sequel, Paddington 2. And it is those traits—a clever but family-oriented joking style—that infuse the entire film with an above-average air of gaiety and levity, making it a truly enjoyable tale.
Now that he has been taken in by a loving British family in a doting neighborhood where all the denizens adore Paddington’s solicitousness (except one grumpy postman), the star teddy needs a job. He needs to work to afford a cute pop-up book from an antique shop, to gift to his Aunt Lucy upon her 100th birthday. But the book is quickly stolen by a trickster magician played by Hugh Grant and, worse, Paddington is framed for the heist.
What follows is a delightful little adventure in which Paddington’s loving family, played by Oscar and Golden Globe nominee Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters and Hugh Bonneville, engage in a Holmes-like escapade to clear the bear’s good name and unmask the real thief. Along the way Paddington enlists the help of fellow inmate with a big heart (Brendan Gleeson). The bear himself is voiced by Ben Whishaw.
Nothing that happens in Paddington 2 is necessarily surprising, nor are the supposedly climactic chase scenes that intense or terrifying. But as the movie and the escapades roll along you find yourself hopelessly rooting for the good guys, enamored perhaps by the sarcastic wit accompanied by genuine emotion, the clever laughs added to the kitsch. Grant’s performance as the multi-dressing bad guy is particularly delectable, following his comedic comeback last year with Florence Foster Jenkins.
The dirty little secret of the movie Paddington 2 and its predecessor is that they are based on the openly but forgivable absurdity that there exist such a thing as a walking, talking teddy bear, the cleverest of all gimmicks to permit the filmmakers to embark on more. For it invariably is the case that as the adventurous plot thickens, Paddington and his cohorts (as well as his foils) engage in more ridiculous behavior and tricks. The movie is challenging you, almost daring you to guffaw it, after you have so thoroughly enjoyed so much from the talking bear himself.
It is when you let yourself go into the whimsical humor of Paddington 2 that the movie will really crystallize for you. The emotional roller-coasters have only a few dips and valleys (they ARE British, remember that). It is instead the simple laughs that King and Simon Barnaby’s script most focuses on. What is most admirable about the film is how they do so much with so little. The heist/chase plot has very little twists or turns, and there are scarcely any well-developed characters. That every cylinder seems to click to produce a borderline magical little tale of a cute little bear is what the movies are all about.
They are also, of course, about family, about hope, about love and joy, and about nostalgia and enjoying the little things. It seems improbable to believe that such a cuddly little creature could generate as much good will from the audience and hit so many notes. That is the secret little power behind this bear, and the magic of his movie.