Ha! Boy howdy is this going to be interesting.
So full disclosure. Before seeing the first movie, I had no idea just how far-reaching Paddington the character was. He started off as a book, originally from the 1950s, but his popularity is so multi-generational that books about him continue to be made. He was also a kids TV show back in 1970s, 80s, 90s, and I guess even had an animated stint back in 2009.
But it wasn’t until his first live-action feature-length outing back in 2014 that finally caught my eye and let me tell you, when I first saw that trailer… I wasn’t impressed. In fact, I was downright dreading this movie. I mean… it featured an anthropomorphic CGI bear cleaning his ears with a toothbrush and then licking the obnoxiously disgusting glob of earwax. My buddy and I had this movie begged: it was going to suck. A lot. But then the unthinkable happened. 7.0/10 on IMDb? 90% on RottenTomatoes?! What is wrong with you, critics?! Didn’t you see the trailer?! My friend was staying with me at my house around this time, so I dragged him out of bed to accompany me to see the flick. We were both kicking and screaming the whole way there, groaning as the previews were about to end, and then… we watched. And we watched. And we watched. The entire thing. And then… it was over. We walked out and… we sighed. We groaned. We rubbed out foreheads and eyes… and we were utterly ashamed… because we both kind of liked it. Yeah, this movie was something of a joke for awhile. We went in wanting to hate it, but we left thinking it was a pretty decent. There was some seriously enjoyable characters, a load of charm from Paddington, and by God, I think Nicole Kidman stole the show playing a better, more cartoony over-the-top villain than her villain co-stars from BATMAN FOREVER (1995). I loved her. I mean, I don’t agree with that 90%, as the movie is basically BEETHOVEN (1992) if the St. Bernard was a bear and could talk, but there was a ton to still like about it. To this day, my friend and I hate that we like it.
Fast-forward three years and history is repeating itself. I’ve watched that trailer and I think the trailer is incredibly unimpressive. But… I said that about the first one. I’m looking at the early ratings. 8.1/10 on IMDb, 100% on RottenTomatoes (both as of 1/11/2018), and I’m screaming at the critics for having no taste in kids movies and talking to my buddy about how wrong they all are and he and I are on a higher level of thinking. But… that’s what we said about the first one! Gah!
So the story looks like it’s about Paddington the bear wanting to get a special pop-up book for his aunt, still back in the wilds. But in order to get that book, he needs money and decides to get a job. Of course, it’s not that easy. But one fateful day, he comes across a master thief who steals that very book, but is framed for the theft and taken to prison. In the process, his new family sets out to prove his innocence.
Starring, we have Ben Winshaw (A HOLOGRAM FOR A KING , THE DANISH GIRL , SKYFALL , and upcoming films MARY POPPINS RETURNS  and BOND 25 ), Hugh Grant (FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS , LOVE ACTUALLY , and NOTTING HILL ), Hugh Bonneville (NOTTING HILL, and the upcoming THE ROCK PILE ), and Sally Hawkins (THE SHAPE OF WATER , MAUDIE , GODZILLA , and the upcoming GODZILLA: KING OF MONSTERS ).
In support, we have Imelda Staunton (MALEFICENT , HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX , and CHICKEN RUN ), Brendan Gleeson (ASSASSIN’S CREED ), Jim Broadbent (THE SENSE OF AN ENDING , and the upcoming THE VOYAGE OF DOCTOR DOLITTLE ), Michael Gambon (VICTORIA & ABDUL , HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN , and the upcoming THE LAST WITNESS ), and Robbie Gee (PIRATES: DEAD MAN’S CHEST , UNDERWORLD , and the upcoming WALK LIKE A PANTHER ).
Now for the crew. Director and co-writer is Paul King, known for PADDINGTON (2014), and a bunch of TV shows and shorts. King’s partner-in-pen is Simon Farnaby, known for unknown stuff. Composing the score is Dario Marianelli, known for DARKEST HOUR (2017), THE BOXTROLLS (2014), and V FOR VENDETTA (2005). The cinematographer is Erik Wilson, known for MASTERMINDS (2016), PADDINGTON, and SUBMARINE (2010). Finally, the co-editors are Jonathan Amos (BABY DRIVER , A UNITED KINGDOM , and the upcoming THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING ) and Mark Everson (PADDINGTON and a bunch of unknown stuff).
Overall… I don’t want to like this movie, but… something’s telling me I’m going to love it. Curse you, bad trailers!
This is my honest opinion of: PADDINGTON 2
Paddington the bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw) has adjusted to his life in Windsor Gardens, London. On the eve of the birthday of Aunt Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton), he visits the local antique shop run by (Jim Broadbent), and shows him a rare and valuable pop-up book of London, the only one of its kind. At the moment, Paddington doesn’t have enough money to buy it, but is determined to get a job to buy it for her. He got really close earning the book, until Paddington witnesses a thief stealing it; the thief being none other than a former famous actor turned dog food spokesman, Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant). But what’s worse, he was in disguise and Paddington didn’t know it was him, and even worse, managed to pin the crime on Paddington, who was only trying to stop the thief. While Paddington must adapt to the harsh life of prison, his family, the Browns, must solve the crime and prove Paddington’s innocence.
I never thought I’d see the day where a movie was made solely for kids that ends up being extraordinary. I couldn’t stop smiling.
Let me give you an example of just how surprisingly well it works, and that’s with the closest thing to a problem that I have with the movie. The movie is a hybrid of live-action and CGI, specifically with Paddington being CGI, naturally. Thing is, when something happens to Paddington, it’s treated very cartoonishly. Take a normal shaving razor from a barbershop and turn it on. Sure, it’s got a powerful vibration to it, but not enough to send you into your own personal 10.0 earthquake. But that’s exactly what happens to Paddington and for whatever reason, he just doesn’t let go of the thing. Other things like getting hurled across a room and cartoonishly sticking to the window and screeching as he slides down the glass, it’s all classic cartoon shenanigans. But how does that work in a live-action world? It’s not like any of the human characters follow the same rules. They get hurt, they get hurt like a normal person. Even though I do have that question mark above my head and acknowledge these things as jarring, somehow I manage to take that question mark and tuck it away in the back of my mind because everything that Paddington goes through is so enjoyable, likable, and downright funny.
Comedy 101, aspiring comedians, slapstick isn’t automatically funny because it’s slapstick. It’s funny because it’s happening to the presented character. Implication: the character is well-written, feels like a real person, and the audience can relate to or understand. That’s exactly what Paddington is and he’s a CGI character and the CGI isn’t even the most convincing. It doesn’t need to be considering how bright, colorful, and cartoonish Windsor Gardens looks, so it’s not entirely out of place. But that’s not what we’re focusing on. We’re focusing on Paddington the character, and he’s brilliantly written. He’s a kind-hearted little bear who has adapted as best he can in his new home and remains enthusiastic about his new life. But more than that, he’s animated with such wonderful expressions and Whishaw is such a great voice actor that it provides incredible legitimacy when he wants to buy the pop-up book to give to Aunt Lucy. And we know why the book is so important given how the movie opens. Aunt Lucy and Uncle Pastuzo are on the verge of chasing their dream of seeing London, but happen across an infant Paddington trapped on a log down raging rapids and about to plummet down a waterfall. But Lucy saves Paddington and the two bears put their plans on hold to take care of the cub ever since. Though this does beg the question, why does Paddington call them “Aunt” Lucy and “Uncle” Pastuzo? If they raised him from a young age, shouldn’t they be called “mom” and “dad”? Oh well, details details, Paddington is fully aware of what Lucy’s done for him and wants to bring London to her through this pop-up book. So when it gets stolen, we understand Paddington’s determination to get things done the right way and earn it through hard work. We understand his urgency to get it back from Phoenix. Great character building.
To boot, the movie has a great message for kids. Not just the whole, “everyone be nice and polite and the world will be right” thing, but it’s how it goes about exploring these avenues. One scene that stands out for me is when Paddington is in prison and is about to make marmalade sandwiches with Knuckles (Brendan Gleeson), but Paddington can’t make so many without some help. In a particularly rude way of saying no, Paddington glares at Knuckles, to which he becomes uneasy with the aggressive expression. Paddington then explains that it’s called a “hard stare,” reserved for those who have forgotten their manners. Aside from how humorous it is for a small bear, with the kindest of hearts, putting the fear of God into a hardened criminal, but it’s a great message in how you deal with rude people. The answer isn’t the extreme of hitting back, and the answer isn’t meeting verbal aggression with your own, but rather to face down with something that I can only define as the penultimate passive-aggressive response: a quiet “hard stare.” It’s really quite ingenious. While certainly the real world may not be as forgiving, it’s still a cute message to aim for the passive route rather than straight for the aggressive.
By God, Hawkins is on a winning streak, isn’t she? If she’s not acting her butt off as a disabled woman, or throwing sass around as a deaf woman in love with a fish man, then she’s being arguably one of the sweetest, yet awesome moms in kid movie history. Not only does she bring that billion dollar smile with her, but Mary is so doting and mild-mannered that when she’s got it in her mind to sneak herself into Phoenix’s house and fumbles through his home, it’s so enjoyably adorable that she became one of my favorite side characters. Or maybe that’s just because she’s Sally Hawkins. In any case, she earns that thumbs up from me. P.S. this woman can’t seem to get away from doing under water scenes, can she? But it’s not just her that brings her A-game. Bonneville is also hilarious. And did anyone else notice that this was a mini NOTTING HILL (1999) reunion with him and Grant? Cute little coincidence there. But he’s hilarious. And even the kids contribute to the plot, almost being the driving force that moves the story along when the movie’s focusing on the Browns and their amateur sleuthing. Although I highly doubt that model toy trains operate the same way as actual steam engines, I’m willing to let that slide for Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) embracing his inner nerd at the last minute.
And oh my god, Grant! Wow. This is probably my favorite performance from him in years and what a perfect casting choice too. In fact, it’s almost too perfect. I mean, that line: “You’re a famous actor. Or… you used to be. Now you do dog food commercials.” Look at Grant’s face when that line is uttered. That’s not acting. That’s him realizing that the late 90s and early 2000s are way gone and the camera just picked up on that. Say what you want about the man himself, who has had a reputation for being difficult to work with, probably contributing to him having a hard time getting leading roles like the good ole days, but if he’s been getting prominent work, then he must have simmered down some. Also… he did become a father some years ago, so that probably contributed more than his reputation, but hey, he’s back and I’m more than excited and happy to see him. Grant was, after all, one of my favorite rom-com actors back in the 90s and early 2000s. What a brilliant role to come back to. An actor who fell from the lime-light and wants to be back on top and will go through any means to do so. He’s full of himself, he’s an egomaniac, and probably a touch crazy… actually, who’s anyone kidding? How did Veruca Salt from WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971) put it? “He’s absolutely bonkers!” He’s so insanely lovable when he’s talking to himself in several different accents that match up to his menagerie of costumes as if he’s talking to multiple people in the room. But you can’t really tell if it’s truly him crazy, or performing, as his motivation is basically to put on a one-man show. Nah, he’s crazy, but it’s still fun to poke and prod at the possibilities. I may prefer Kidman’s Millicent from the first film, simply because of the shock factor that Kidman isn’t known for her comedy and she pulled it off so unexpectedly well, but Grant has my heart too.
Other great moments include the incredible visuals, like the gorgeous montage of Paddington showing Aunt Lucy around the pop-up book version of London, to a band playing on a scaffold while Paddington is cleaning windows, to the cartoonishly delightful prison breakout scene, the marvelous a fun setting of Windsor Gardens, this movie’s got some seriously fun visuals to keep kids
The only real problem that I have with the film is that it does lose a little focus when it gets to the prison scenes. The whole point of the story was to see Paddington earn enough to buy the book for Lucy and getting it back from Phoenix. Why does the story change shifts and make it about Paddington being forgotten by the Browns? He knows that they’re trying to figure out who the thief was and keep chasing down lead after lead. Granted, it’s a wonder why the Browns don’t send at least one adult to visit him on visiting day while the other continues to snoop, but this seems like a pretty contrived and pointless plot point. We already know that this isn’t the case and we already know how this will get resolved by the end of it and ultimately doesn’t contribute to the story in any meaningful way. At least, not one that I see.
Overall, this is the first truly good film to come out this year. Whether you’re an adult or a kid, everyone can find something to enjoy. From the amazing acting, spot on humor, colorful visuals, and wonderfully written characters, I couldn’t recommend this movie higher if I tried. I may have only seen this movie once in theaters, but I would love to see is a second, even a third time, and would definitely love to own it on Blu-Ray when the time comes. Mind your manners, enjoy your marmalade sandwiches, and enjoy this cute and worthy sequel.
My honest rating for PADDINGTON 2: a strong 4/5
PS: Have any young fans of Paddington? Birthday coming up? Just feel like getting something nice for them? Then head on over to Amazon and pick up a Paddington bear toy.
Or show them kids where Paddington came from and pick up the original book, A Bear Called Paddington. Can never go wrong with the classics.