Paddington 2 August 13, 2018
1 Hr., 43 Mins.
I'm not so sure about Ehrlich’s intimations that these films are intrinsically responses to this particularly dour epoch: features like these have always existed, and the themes presented have always been pertinent. But I’m inclined to agree that in the midst of an unrelentingly horrific political era, a movie as benevolent as Paddington 2 does manage to feel quietly revolutionary: It is something of an antidote to a time where asking nobody in particular whether things can get any worse is a commonplace occurrence. A movie as optimistic and rose-colored, but not entirely frivolous either, is almost a shock to our systems.
Paddington 2, like its 2014 predecessor, takes place in what looks like a near-utopia. And not just because the photography is warmed by a subtle golden tint. Here, neighbors get along; friends and family are treasured. An anything-is-possible attitude dances about. In the movie, compassion and altruism get you far; intolerance and mean-spiritedness will not be permitted.
In 2, Paddington (Ben Whishaw), the cuddlesome, anthropomorphic brown bear protagonist, has been living for some time with the Browns, the kindly Windsor Gardens-based family who took him in during the first movie. He has become a crucial part of the community; he has befriended almost everyone in his new neighborhood.
But as the film opens, he’s thinking about his upbringing, too. His adoptive mother, the good-natured Lucy (Imelda Staunton), will be turning 100 soon, and it is important to Paddington that she get the gift of her dreams. He sees one in a one-of-a-kind pop-up book being sold at an antique store down the street. Its owner, the quirky but lovable Samuel (Jim Broadbent), wants to give it to the bear. But the storybook is far out of Paddington’s price range. If the animal can save enough money, though, Samuel will reserve it.
Paddington immediately starts working odd jobs around the neighborhood, and almost everybody is willing to contribute to his mission. But his hard work is interrupted almost at the outset: Just before he’s accrued enough funds, the book is stolen from the shop by Phoenix Buchanan (a career-best Hugh Grant), a washed-up but skilled actor who believes the three-dimensional tome, which essentially maps out London, actually bears clues that will lead him to hidden treasure.
Because Paddington was at the scene of the crime at the time of the robbery, he's mistaken as the instigator, and is swiftly imprisoned. As he tries to make the most of his misguided sentencing, the Browns take matters into their own hands elsewhere, using snooping methods Nancy Drew would likely blush at.
The criminal undertones don’t darken the film’s flamboyant rosiness, though. Just like the first movie, this fictional world looks and feels like a cinematized storybook. A good thing, certainly: the Paddington bear character is famous for being the star of his own book series, after all.
It is an amalgam of easy-going comedy and caper-movie antics, heightened by writer and director Paul King’s Wes Anderson-mining brand of visual and narrative whimsy. It is a delight — a genial family movie that does indeed feel made for each member. (Adults will be particularly taken with the way the movie cleverly allegorizes, in a way comparable to 2016’s Zootopia, the dangers of xenophobia and racism.) And it is a manifestation of everything a popcorn movie could be: an escapist joy that has more on its mind than simply wanting to entertain us. A-
n June, the critic David Ehrlich, writing for IndieWire, called last year’s Paddington 2 radical. Not because of innovation per se, but because he felt as though it was essentially a cinematic rebuttal to the unrelenting cynicism of the Trump era. The film, along with other recent feel-good features, like the Mister Rogers-centric Won’t You Be My Neighbor and the tenderhearted father-daughter movie Hearts Beat Loud, comprise what Ehrlich calls “nicecore”: a new wave of cinema that uses kindness as a transformative stylistic device.