“Paddington 2” marks yet another fun and faithful film adaptation of the popular children’s book.
In a landscape dominated by DreamWorks Animation, Pixar, and Walt Disney Animation Studios, director Paul King brings a fresh voice to children’s movies with “Paddington 2.” In the first film, we follow the beloved character Paddington Bear, voiced by Ben Whishaw, as he winds up in England and finds a home with the Brown family. After witnessing his adjustment to human life, we now join the furry protagonist in his search for the perfect present for his aunt Lucy’s birthday.
Eventually, Paddington sets his sights on an expensive antique pop-up book. He undertakes a series of odd jobs to buy it, but it is stolen by a mysterious stranger. After a fruitless pursuit, the police find Paddington and charge him for a crime he did not commit. But the Browns know better than to believe others. While Paddington spends his time in prison and befriends the inmates — as a bear does — Mr. Brown (Hugh Bonneville) and Mrs. Brown (Sally Hawkins) commit themselves to finding who stole the book and why. Signs point to Phoenix Buchanan, a washed-up actor played by Hugh Grant, as the man behind it all.
The movie gives Grant, along with other recognizable British talents, an array of zany lines, gags, and costumes to work with. With silly slapstick humor around every corner, one can only imagine the movie’s many lively production days with such a charismatic cast of familiar faces. For example, when Paddington angers a fellow inmate, a security guard radios for an ambulance. When Paddington further provokes the inmate, the guard changes his mind and says, “Never mind. Call a priest.” The in-story humor is never overdone, though; there’s seldom any crude gags or potty humor that normally fill the narrative gaps of a children’s movie. The movie also doesn’t resort to pop-culture references or adult jokes, preferring to win over young and old audience members alike with the timeless, childlike charm of trains, carnivals, hot air balloons, and, of course, bears. Ben Whishaw lends a soft, inquisitive voice to Paddington, embodying the best of our leading character’s simple and sweet personality.
The movie itself is a delight to look at, as if its design was pulled straight out of a child’s imagination. Vibrant clothes adorn every character and every room or space is filled with colorful, eye-catching details. For a movie about a talking bear, there are some scenes that are wholly unrealistic but nonetheless add a layer of magic to the story. The film also creates a uniquely ageless aura by not settling on a specific decade in time; the characters drive contemporary cars, and yet they still use typewriters and landlines, making “Paddington 2” feel like a PG “Amélie” or “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” In similar style to Wes Anderson, the camera cuts between wildly different shots to create visual jokes, and it frames the characters’ faces up close and center to accentuate and exaggerate their expressions.
These aspects make for a cute movie, but “cute” may admittedly be all there is to it. It is a film that is rather safe and neither very special nor stand-out. One could argue that “Paddington 2” lacks the creative and emotional depth and complexity of other movies from bigger studios like Pixar — but does it need to have these things? Created by author Michael Bond, Paddington Bear has starred in numerous fictional books and become a household name in Britain and around the world. With several television series’ over the past few decades, it was only a matter of time until the kind-hearted bear “from darkest Peru” had his own film adaptation. An adaptation that sacrifices the endearing simplicity of the original stories might erase the books’ old-fashioned charm, but luckily, “Paddington 2” does not. With a reality far less pleasant, maybe we need to start the year off with a feel-good film starring our favorite marmalade-loving bear.
Director: Paul King
Starring: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant, Sally Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson
Release Date: January 12, 2018
Image Courtesy of StudioCanal