Starring: Ben Whishaw, Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, Hugh Grant, Brendan Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, Peter Capaldi
Director: Paul King
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Rating: PG for Cheeky Humor and Threats of Violence Appeased by Marmalde
Release Date: January 12, 2018
The first Paddington film was a clear refugee allegory, with the titular “very special bear” (voiced then and now by Ben Whishaw) looking for a new home in England after his home in Peru is destroyed. The coded language about what happens to neighborhoods when bears move in was an obvious stand-in for how some actual Londoners (and other native residents around the globe) feel about the arrival of immigrants. Paddington 2 – in which the raincoat-sporting, marmalade-loving bear is imprisoned for grand theft despite his innocence – is not quite so stark in its messaging. It may have something to say about profiling, though Paddington’s wrongful arrest has more to do with misleading circumstantial evidence moreso than ungenerous assumptions about bearfolk. Still, for a family-friendly flick that distinguishes itself with a gentle touch, it is notable how much it does not hold back from some genuinely unsettling moments.
It all starts out pleasantly enough. Paddington, now living with the Brown family in London, wants to get his Aunt Lucy, the bear who raised him, a truly special present for her 100th birthday. He comes across a rare pop-up book in an antique shop, but it is a bit out of his price range, which is to say, he has no money (unless the Browns have been giving him an allowance). So he sets out to join the workforce, which begins with an abortive stint as a barbershop assistant (make sure to keep what appear to be narrative detours in mind, as these adventures are all intricately and carefully plotted) but then ultimately leads to an entrepreneurial effort as a window-washer. This segment is most memorable for Paddington’s improvising by rubbing the soap against the glass with his bum, which explains why this is rated PG and not G.
It gets a little scary from here on out, though. Considering the genre, there’s no need to worry that it will all descend into a bloodbath, but in the course of the narrative playing out, the danger does feel real, and fitfully intense. The main baddie is Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), a washed-up actor who is now best known for appearing in hacky dog food commercials. He’s the real thief behind the crime Paddington has been charged with, a villain in the Scooby-Doo mold, though a tad more competent: awfully silly but a master of disguise and escape. Grant has a blast with all the dress-up and smoke-and-mirrors.
But the most worrisome threats come during Paddington’s prison stint. He runs afoul of Nuckles (Brendan Gleeson), the inmate assigned to cooking duties, who is legendary for dispensing with those who question his culinary decisions. It really does feel like Paddington is just one false move away from Nuckles beating him to a pulp. This is the neat trick that P2 pulls off. We really do believe that Paddington’s fellow inmates are capable of the crimes they are guilty of (though we would surely never see them happen in a film this), while simultaneously we believe that they would indeed befriend a fundamentally decent, very special bear.
Aesthetically, attention must also be paid to Paddington 2’s artful compositions. Director Paul King was no slouch in the first Paddington, with a whimsical architectural style indebted to Wes Anderson. This time around, he grows even more confident, assembling artfully arranged close-ups: single characters take up the ideal frame space and there is still an impressive amount of background information. London can be harsh, but the care apparent in Paddington 2 makes it much easier to bear.
Paddington 2 is Recommended If You Like: The first Paddington, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Family films that don’t hold back
Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Marmalade Sandwiches