Paddington 2 (2017)
Written by Paul King & Simon Farnaby
Directed by Paul King
I strongly dislike most contemporary children’s movies. Now I will concede this could simply be a case of the grumpy old man saying, “They were better when I was a kid.” When the final week of school rolls around, my grade level team will typically have a Movie Day where students can pick which of the seven 3rd grade classrooms they want to visit based on the movie that the teacher is showing. You’ll often see films like The Secret Life of Pets, Minions, Trolls, Sing!, or whatever wide release pablum is the only thing being offered to kids these days. I try to present something off the beaten path, which usually results in a smaller number of students. Last year, I chose My Neighbor Totoro, and the children who chose my room all seemed to enjoy the picture. I have a feeling that, if the school is back in session this year, I will select Paddington 2 as my offering. It is about as perfect as you can get for a movie aimed at kids.
I never saw the first Paddington film, but this sequel makes it quite easy to jump in without missing a step. Paddington is an anthropomorphic bear who has come to London and lives with the Brown family. He’s a valued member of their street’s community and starts the movie searching for a way to earn money so he can buy his aunt a birthday present. The present he has in mind is an intricate pop-up book detailing the major landmarks of the city of London, a place his aunt has never visited. However, one evening a mysterious figure breaks into the charity shop where the book resides and steals it right before Paddington’s eyes. The little bear is blamed and sentenced to prison while the Brown family attempts to clear his name on the outside.
It’s evident that director Paul King is a fan of Wes Anderson’s films as he borrows elements of that filmmaker’s style throughout. I never felt that this was a total mimic of Anderson but paying attention to particular stylistic touches to give this world its own distinct feel. Paddington is very much a British production, and it’s more the color palette and production design that get the Anderson overlay. The humor in the film had me laughing out loud than most of the recent comedies I’ve watched. This is likely due to Paul King’s involvement on the British television comedy The Mighty Boosh, a show for grown-ups that employed a pseudo-H.R. Puffinstuff-like aesthetic. The same techniques and visuals would be used in King’s feature debut, The Bunny and The Bull. Paddington 2 is more grounded, but it uses its actors’ rich skill to provide the majority of the humor.
Sally Hawkins is perfect as Mrs. Brown and gets some great comedic moments, mainly when she breaks into the antagonist’s home. Hugh Bonneville as Mr. Brown makes his character more complex and funny than you might expect from the stock square dad role. Brendan Gleeson plays an inmate who befriends Paddington and gives a gruff and entertaining performance.
But the show is entirely stolen by Hugh Grant as Phoenix Buchanan, a fading actor who is treasure-hunting to rebuild his fortune and has no qualms about letting Paddington take the fall for him. Grant is absolutely brilliant in this role, and you can see he enjoys every second of it. The character of Phoenix is a bit of ribbing at himself. The man’s home is adorned with Grant’s own glamorous headshots, which in character is used to emphasize his vain-glorious nature. He’s a bit of mental character as well, talking to the mannequins who wear his old costume, of whom he voices the responses. I have enjoyed this later in life stage of Grant’s career, where he appears to show a great deal of humor about himself and is having a lot of fun acting. Paddington 2 is the sort of kids/family film I dream about, and it should not be missed.