Movie Review: ‘PADDINGTON 2’ is a beary, beary heartening masterpiece

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Courtney Howard // Film Critic

PADDINGTON 2

Rated PG, 104 minutes
Directed by: Paul King
Starring: Ben Whishaw, Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, Madeleine Harris, Samuel Joslin, Brendan Gleeson

There are very few sequels that can be classified as earned and warranted. They feature well-written characters and storytelling that leads us into a world to get lost in, leaving us riveted, entertained and wanting more. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, ALIENS and GODFATHER PART II all spring immediately to mind. But since we live in a modern era of excess and “doing it just because we can,” our sequel landscape tends to resemble a garbage heap more often than not. Thankfully, we don’t have that problem with director/ co-writer Paul King’s PADDINGTON 2. With a heartening, valuable and wholesome message about how the good inside all of us can impact the world outside of us, coupled with dazzling, magical animation and a smashing dose of whimsical hilarity and fun, this is an unforgettable cinematic gift. You’ll walk out of the theater wanting to be a better person. How many other movies do you know inspire such an unabashedly glorious, joyous and uplifting feeling? Not many. A magnificent delight that’s truly wonderful, this one really warms the heart.

Paddington (voiced impeccably by Ben Whishaw) has settled in as a beloved member of the Brown family and solidified himself as a pillar of his Windsor Gardens neighborhood. His politeness and positivity make the residents’ lives more vibrant. However, Paddington’s kind core values are about to be put to the test. His quest to find the perfect 100th birthday gift for his Aunt Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton) – an expensive, one-of-a-kind antique pop-up book – gets him into quite the pickle. Before he can purchase it, the book is stolen from Mr. Gruber’s (Jim Broadbent)  – and to make matters worse, he’s been fingered for the crime. Is the Browns’ neighbor, washed-up actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), the master of disguise behind this robbery? It’s up to Henry (Hugh Bonneville), Mary (Sally Hawkins), Judy (Madeleine Harris), Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) and Mrs. Bird (Julie Walters) to nab the criminal and exonerate our furry hero.

Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) has his values tested in PADDINGTON 2. Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures.

King and co-writer Simon Farnaby, who once again reprises his role as Barry the security guard, infuse the narrative with loving homages to such films as IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, LEMONY SNICKET’S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, MODERN TIMES and, if you can believe it, THE UNTOUCHABLES. Its vibe and aesthetic radiates in chorus with Jean-Pierre Jeunet (specifically AMELIE), Wes Anderson (specifically THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL) and other works by Frank Capra (specifically MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON and MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN). There’s also an uproariously funny, Busby Berkeley-inspired number during the end credits, so make sure to stay for those, which is easy to do since you’ll be needing to regain your composure after the emotional, swelling end beat that’s guaranteed to make you cry. Weeks later, I still can’t talk about the ending without getting verklempt. Plus, Brendan Gleeson, sporting THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER-style knuckle tattoos, is hilarious as Nuckles McGinty, the tough-as-nails prison cook whom Paddington befriends.

Not only have King and Farnaby crafted a story perfect for the whole family, and one embodying the absolutely charming, sweet spirit of what author Michael Bond created, but the animators have also outdone themselves. They’ve breathed life into what could be very static situations. Whether it be Paddington puffing up due to static electricity, or his fur vibrating when he turns on a razor, or when a single tear trickles down his snout in a close-up, it’s unreal to see a CG bear interact with real environments in a very real way. From window-washing, to accidently shaving a grouchy judge, to slinking through the gears of a clock, Paddington’s clever physical comedy scenarios are all very Charlie Chaplin-inspired. The animators also give a lovely, lyrical texture to the sequence where Paddington imagines he’s running around the watercolor illustrations of London in the pop-up book.

The filmmakers have created a sequel that stands alone from the original (which I’ve been testifying for years now is the legit business), but also augments its predecessor’s greater meaning. In many ways, this surpasses the already pristine first film as it instills a highly resonant, timely message without overstatement or self-congratulation. It’s a subtle, classy (yet wildly rebellious) response to a lot of the political muck going on in the world dealing with immigrants and outsiders. This little adorable bear shows us that if we treat everyone with respect and compassion, the world is destined to be a better place.

Grade: A+

PADDINGTON 2 is now playing.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.

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