I try my best not to mix my own politics with film reviews, unless the films are making a strong political statement or something happens that I find so downright loathsome that I just have to say something. And yet here I am with this review of Paddington 2 and it feels as if I should start off with a bit of a statement.
Don't worry, I believe what I am about to say is actually quite bipartisan, but I suppose that really depends on how you're viewing the world around you. Because that world has been getting a bit crappier and crappier for most of the past few weeks, months, and years. Natural disasters, idiots and criminals in positions of authority, tensions between countries with nuclear weapons, business closures and job losses, murders and cowardly terrorist attacks, and the general downsizing of some of my favourite chocolate bars.
Why am I doing my best to make us all a bit depressed? Well, Paddington 2 is an undeniably fun and lovely film, but it's also the perfect kind of film to make you forget about global problems for a while, and I think the timing may be as much a key to its success as the quality of the film itself.
Returning to helm once more, after doing such a great job with the first movie, director Paul King (also co-writing again, this time with Simon Farnaby, who also has a hilarious cameo) crafts another perfect mix of comedy, sweetness, and sheer entertainment.
The plot revolves around a pop-up book. Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) wants to save up his money and buy it as a great birthday gift for his Aunt Lucy. Which makes it very unfortunate when the book is stolen. And it's even more unfortunate when Paddington is mistaken for the thief, leaving him to spend some time at her majesty's leisure while the cunning thief (Hugh Grant, clearly having a blast) uses the book to decipher a code that he hopes will lead to a heap of treasure. Prison life leads Paddington to meet Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson), and an unlikely friendship develops. But is that enough to keep our little bear in good spirits while people outside the prison walls try to prove his innocence? Or will a prison break be necessary?
Watching Paddington 2, and enjoying it SO much, got me thinking about both of the Paddington films. They both have the same strengths. First of all, the cast. Most people return here to the roles that they had in the first film, and the cast includes Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Peter Capaldi, Jim Broadbent, Tom Conti, and many, many more. Some scenes are a veritable who's who of British talent. Second, this is how you update a cute character who came to prominence in what might be labelled more innocent times. Paddington Bear isn't the type of youngster who has grown up with Twitter and Facebook, he doesn't have a smartphone in his pocket, and a lot of his values are as naive as they are admirable. But keeping him that way, almost a wide-eyed innocent often wrong-footed by the world around him, makes him a great character at the heart of these stories. And the fact that he never doubts himself, the fact that he always treats everyone the same way, makes it easier to accept those reciprocating his kindness and selflessness in a way that somehow doesn't feel too schmaltzy and annoying.
There are other reasons for the films being so successful, of course. The production design, the visuals, the CGI, the music, the pacing, every aspect of the film feels like it has been given due care and consideration. The script balances out the jokes with the emotional content, nicely weighting things on one end or the other through alternating scenes, and both major elements work. And I think I already mentioned Hugh Grant. He may be portraying a very different kind of villain from the character played by Nicole Kidman in the first film, but that doesn't make him less of a threat. He's the type that you want to boo and hiss at, even while laughing at his vanity and showiness (he plays a hammy actor who hasn't starred in a hit for quite some time - at least those costumes he has will help him in a variety of different disguises).
I haven't taken the time to rattle through the entire cast and sing their praises because this is an ensemble piece that brings the best out of everyone, whether they're onscreen for ten seconds or one hundred minutes. You don't view Hawkins, Bonneville, and co. as the supporting cast. You view them as the Browns. You don't spend the film contemplating how good Whishaw is in his voice role, you just accept that he's Paddington. And so on.
There's not much more I can say about it. I don't agree with some who think this sequel is superior to the first movie, but I couldn't say that it's inferior either. I rate both the same, and recommend picking up a nice double-bill immediately if you've somehow avoided either film until now. Buy the films, clear your schedules, make yourself a nice plate of marmalade sandwiches, and then sit down and press play. You'll thank me for it.
You can buy Paddington 2 here.
Americans can get it here.