In spite of a lackluster marketing campaign whose greatest achievement was the “Creepy Paddington” meme, 2015’s Paddington was one of the best surprises of the year. Paul King’s adaptation of the classic character was distinctly British in its humor, but universal in its emotional core where a lost little bear found a family. Sequels are always tough and tend to result in diminishing returns, but Paddington 2 is even better than the original. Rather than try to rehash old jokes or coast on goodwill from the first movie, Paddington 2 feels even more fully realized with a strong sense of identity and presence. At its basic level, it’s just Paddington getting into mischief and being nice to everyone, and yet it’s amazing how far that goes thanks to the film’s wit and King’s vibrant direction that comes off like Wes Anderson for kids. If you want to start the year off right, you need to see Paddington 2.
Paddington Brown (Ben Whishaw) wants to get the perfect birthday present for his Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton), and he thinks he’s found it when he comes across a pop-up book featuring landmarks of London. However, the book is an antique and costs £1,000, so Paddington resolves to get a window washing job so he can afford the book. The night before he’s about to reach his goal, the Brown family visits a carnival where they meet washed-up actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant). Paddington reveals to Phoenix the book he’s about to buy, and Phoenix realizes the antique is far more valuable than £1,000. When a mysterious figure breaks into the antique shop and steals the book, Paddington is framed for the theft and sent to prison. The Brown family must figure out how to prove his innocence while Paddington tries to make the best of being incarcerated.
There’s nothing particularly grandiose about Paddington 2, and yet its beauty is in its simplicity. It’s incredibly difficult to show the value of kindness without coming off as mawkish or preachy, but King gets seemingly infinite mileage out of his overly polite, literal-minded bear. The entire movie is really about how it’s good to be good, and while that may seem painfully simple and boring, it’s absolutely wonderful within the context of the film. We see how Paddington has a profound effect on his neighbors by knowing them so well, caring about their needs, and trying to make their days a little better. The year has just begun, but I know one of my favorite scenes of 2018 is Paddington deciding to wash a grumpy neighbor’s windows for free, which literally and figuratively brings light into that neighbor’s life.
The confidence on display is astounding. King, recognizing that audiences went for his brand of humor on the first Paddington, feels confident enough to go even further in his title character’s antics. There’s not a single mean-spirited moment in Paddington, and it always knows how to be perfectly silly. The picture-book prison could have easily gone off the rails, but since any embellishment on prison life is bound to be silly, King goes all in, dressing the prisoners in pink-and-black uniforms (following a laundry mishap caused by Paddington) and eventually has all the inmates become Paddington’s buddies.