Bears seem to be a big part of children’s literature. You have characters like Winne the Pooh, Rupert the Bear and the subject of this review, Paddington. He has been in 150 books, but he has become more than a book character; he is a tourist attraction. There is a statue of him at his namesake station, a stall selling countless numbers of brick-a-brack, like cards, pins, bags, pens and, yes, even books. Yet he has never stayed still. There have been some television shows about him from 1975 to 2009 and, in 2014, he was on the big screen with the voice of Ben Wishaw in his first feature-length theatrical film. Now there is a sequel which promises to be bigger and better than the last. So how does this instalment of the Paddington franchise fair after a long hard stare?
Set after the events of the first film, Paddington has settled into life with the Browns. However, soon it is his Aunt Lucy’s birthday and he finds a perfect gift for her in the shape of a pop-up book that has tableaus of famous London landmarks. When this book is stolen and he is framed for the theft Paddington, the Browns and a cast of colourful characters must get to the bottom of the crime of the century.
From what I remember of the first Paddington film, despite its good reviews and favourable audience reception, I didn’t much care for it. I felt that it was yet another example of someone taking what was a simple story of a bear coming to terms with life in modern England and turning it into an action comedy. The stunts were too large, the humour too broad and overall it was a bit too much, despite trying to be a nice family film. However, I was pleasantly surprised by Paddington 2; I was afraid that it would continue on with the kind of inoffensive middle of the road cartoonish production that the first film was. I mean it did, but something about the sequel has refined that formula to something that is just good fun.
What helps put this instalment of the Paddington film series head and shoulders above the first one in regards to quality are the fantastic characters. Brendan Gleeson and Hugh Grant make the film sing as Knuckles McGinty, a hardened prison chef and struggle luvvy, called Pheonix Buchannan, respectively. Grant specifically deserves special mention as he steals every scene he is in, efficiently snacking on the surroundings as he does so. He should sell the film alone as the campy actor trying to claw his way back to stardom. Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins also do a great job reprising their roles as Mr and Mrs Brown, both adding to what they were in the first film and making them distinguishable and memorable characters. The cast list is also full of famous faces, with Richard Ayoade, Joanna Lumley, Ben Miller, and Jessica Stevenson having small bit roles.
The plot is a lot more focused here as well. It is structured in a more fragmented way, which works in Paddington’s favour, as little vignettes of nice things happening that are all tied together by an overarching story feels more like the original books written by Michael Bond, who unfortunately past away in June of this year. I really liked the sections in the jail as there was a great combination of smaller story, smaller stakes and smaller humour being played off in a larger story. It does help that the film has a great, almost BBC version of the Great British Bake Off aesthetic, with pastel colours and slightly storybook set design. Actually, come to think of it, did the prison scene remind you of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel?
This part of the review contains minor spoilers so if you want to see Paddington 2 unspoiled now is your chance. For those of us left, let’s talk about death. Now for those who are still hanging on, let’s talk about how that relates to children and children’s literature. I know I certainly wasn’t aware of the finiteness of life when I was a wee tot reading Paddington books or any children’s book, there are vague hints at a heaven parallel in the Narnia series and others that make dying seem like an adventure, as Peter Pan puts it. But I and my sister became painfully aware of this fact when we were very young. Not through the death of a beloved pet, but through a growing dread that our parents were not going to be around forever. And that terrified us. Paddington 2 has a moment in it when a character accepts their fate and waits for death. This happens right after some comedy hijinks that involves a train, a pop-up book and a load of circus stuff. Now, this is an important thing to learn about; death is a part of life and pets and grandparents help make that point, but not a CGI bear and not sort of out of nowhere with another character waiting with them. I mean it might just be me thinking way too much about a small section of an otherwise kooky and light-hearted kid’s movie, right. Right?!
Despite me possibly misinterpreting the end of the film, Paddington 2 is a pretty good family comedy. It has spades of character, a great look and sections of the film that are a joy to watch. With the weather turning colder and wetter, you could do worse than curling up with your kids to watch the hijinks of a bear that has an obsession with orange preserves. Though maybe check to see that your child is comfortable with the concept of death and injustice before taking them to the cinema. Also tell them not to look at their phones, there were tons of children on their phone in the theatre, and I was going to tell them to put it away, but I was embarrassed that I would draw attention to myself as a 25-year-old childless adult telling kids to put away their phones because it was distracting me from the film about a bear that can talk and eats marmalade 3 times a day.
You can watch Paddington 2 in cinemas now