Paddington 2 has a simple message, but one that is nevertheless easily forgotten. Be nice to people. Pay it forward. Yadda yadda. It sounds obvious, and it sounds like it would play saccharine in a children’s film about a naive little bear. But, for the second time, it doesn’t.
I would like to make the argument that this second film is better than the original. The two films are nearly identical in formula. The message is similar. The characters are the same. The goals of the characters are simple…until they aren’t.
What is different is the implications of the conflict. In Paddington 2, washed up actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant) frames Paddington (Ben Whishaw) for the theft of a pop-up book that Paddington wants to buy as a gift for his aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton). Imprisoned, Paddington must keep his hopes alive while his adopted family pursues the real culprit.
See, Paddington is a character with an oblivious optimism. Even as his every move extends an ongoing comedy of errors, the little bear never finds fault in anything or anyone. In the first film, this personality is never really challenged. He is purely a fish out of water character in that film, inevitably convincing the curmudgeons in his company to change their tunes.
In Paddington 2, a convict bear finds his hope and optimism strained. It isn’t the deepest emotional wrinkle, but it adds something. It gives the bear characterization, as opposed to merely character quirks, and Ben Whishaw does a good job of giving a visual effect that character.
Also doing a bang up job is Grant, whose villainous character is gleefully maniacal. Its a cartoon character, sure, but this movie is basically a cartoon to begin with. His one-track-mind causes him to race across London donning disguises and playing famous characters from fiction—Hamlet, Macbeth, Poirot—all leading up to a climactic chase on a train that is much more neatly staged than you would expect from a film like this.
The entire film, as a matter of fact, is visually striking. There are plenty of lovely shots thrown into the mix. The entire segment of the film that takes place in prison reads like The Grand Budapest Hotel, with Wes Anderson idiosyncrasies and symmetry. And there are a few dynamic uses of animation, as in when the bear visual effect is integrated into an animated display of the film’s MacGuffin (a pop-up book).
Paddington 2 effectively balances heart and humor to create quality children’s entertainment. In a film industry where The Emoji Movie and other studio laziness exists, this is saying something.
Paddington 2: B+