Paddington 2 (2017)
Dir: Paul King
As someone who only saw the first Paddington movie earlier this year, I surprised myself a little by going to see this on its UK opening weekend and thoroughly enjoyed every single charming moment.
Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) wants to buy a rare pop-up book of London for his aunt, but the gift is out of his price range and as he works to get the funds, someone else realises the true secret value of and so steals it, framing the blameless bear in the process.
I saw this in a small boutique cinema with a friend who hadn’t seen the first. She fell in love with Paddington Bear within seconds and thoroughly enjoyed the film despite having missed the first part. I only saw the first film earlier this year and I can confidently say that this is every bit as good as it, possibly even better in some ways, thankfully unlikely to disappoint any fans of the first. Returning director Paul King clearly has a good grasp on the character and how best to tell his story, making this a lovely follow-up that feels like a perfect continuation without needlessly doing the same things over again.
I have a bit of a theory. I think in these films we are seeing modern-day London and everything from Paddington’s point of view, through his marmalade-tinted glasses. It’s a quaint, nostalgic, idealised depiction of London that’s slightly removed from reality but perfect for a family movie with international appeal. It’s a version of the city that makes the most of the classic movie landmarks and stereotypical ideas of the city and ‘Britishness’ while still feeling current, especially in its themes.
Early on, Paddington is shown to be really settled in his new home and part of the community in one of those idealistically choreographed scenes that work for comedies and musicals but would never happen in real life. When he decides to get a job it’s clear that this will be a funny disaster, one of the best scenes being his first job (I’ll say no more), then as he tries his hand at window cleaning it’s hilarious, those scenes alone had me laughing more than enough to justify the price of the ticket and there are plenty more fun shenanigans after that. Ben Whishaw is still a nice fit for the voice of Paddington, he well-conveys the warmth and naiveté of the character again in this film and there are also moments of assertiveness that take a little more force in certain lines, all of which felt absolutely on point.
A testament to the quality of the writing is the long list of British actors that take part, from the small cameos to the bigger roles there are so many recognisable faces and lovely performances even in the briefest appearances. Hugh Grant is a particularly superb piece of casting as the thespian villain Phoenix Buchanan. I saw him interviewed about the film on a talk show the day after I saw the film and his persona was almost indistinguishable from that of the character in places, which is probably why he’s so good as a lovable rogue that audiences will enjoy watching, even though he’s masterminding the downfall of beloved Paddington.
Everyone else in the film is great too, it would take me forever to name and praise each one of them. Returning cast such as Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins are as good in this film as they were in the last. New people like Brendan Gleeson are fantastic, especially as his character is a fun take on the tough characters he’s best known for. As an ensemble cast, it’s one of the best of the year.
Many of the news stories about this film recently were about how producer David Heyman wanted to get the U.S. distribution rights back from the Weinstein Company as he didn’t want it associated with them in any way after recent events. That happened and I expect the new distributor Warner Bros. will give it their best next month as this is perfect counter-programming for families and could be a big success for them on the other side of the Atlantic.
There’s no doubt a third film will be put into production. The three years between films this time feels like it was about right, both to keep the returning cast and give the film enough time to be well-produced. I hope they don’t rush the next film because if it’s done well this could turn out to be one of the nicest family-friendly trilogies and one that I’m looking forward to seeing the next part of.
Thankfully this is a really strong sequel, it’s every bit as good if not better than the original and not going to disappoint any fans of that film at all. It did very well at the UK box office and I hope it will replicate that success in the US when released mid-January. I’m a little surprised they didn’t aim it a few weeks earlier to screen over the holiday season when it would’ve done brilliantly but families should absolutely take the chance to see it in the new year.