There’s a tendency with sequels, perhaps especially family-friendly ones, to repeat the story that was so popular in the original. But have no fear, human and bear friends. There is no sign of sequel-itis in Paddington 2.
This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who saw Paddington. The (mostly) live-action adaptation of the Michael Bond books about a bear and his family probably could have phoned it in and made a fair amount of money off of name recognition and nostalgia alone. Instead, Paul King used the adaptation to tell a funny, heartwarming, visually-inventive tale about the immigrant experience, the vibrancy of a multicultural city, and the flexibility of family.
Paddington 2builds on the themes of the first film and uses the extra narrative space not to avoid repeating the same story; it also expands its focus from the family to the community. We catch up with Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) and the rest of the Brown family a short amount of time following the first film. Paddington has settled into the family and the Windsor Gardens community.
It’s not just the Browns who have accepted and benefitted from his presence though. It’s also the woman who gives Paddington a ride on her bicycle in exchange for a marmalade sandwich; the garbage worker Paddington helps study in exchange for a lift on his truck; the stray wolfhound, affectionately called “Wolfy,” that Paddington washes and keeps company. In details small and large, the film does a good job showing the reciprocal relationships that are a part of any healthy neighborhood.
While Paddington may have found a new home in London, he still thinks of his home in Darkest Peru, and most especially of his Aunt Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton). As we learn from a flashback that begins the film, Aunt Lucy and Uncle Pastuzo (Michael Gambon) were planning on visiting London right before they brought Paddington, a lost cub in need, into their family. With a youngster to look after, Lucy and Patuzo had to put their trip on hold. So now, with Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday approaching, Paddington is desperate to find the perfect gift to send his adopted mother to brighten her time at The Home for Retired Bears, and perhaps ease the ache of his absence. Paddington settles on an antique pop-up book of London he finds in Mr. Gruber’s (Jim Broadbent) store. Paddington was the reason why Aunt Lucy never was able to visit London, so Paddington will have to bring London to Aunt Lucy.
There’s only one problem: the pop-up book costs some serious dough. So Paddington must get a job, trying his paw at everything from barber shop assistant to window cleaner and giving the film a chance to stretch its comedic chops. Paddington almost has enough money saved when the book is stolen from the shop, and Paddington framed for the crime by the nefarious actor Phoenix Buchanan (played by a delightfully devilish Hugh Grant, building off of Nicole Kidman’s legacy of excellent Paddington villains). Paddington ends up in prison and inadvertently gets on the wrong side of Nuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson), where his marmalade good manners may not prove enough to get by.
Paddington 2 has all of the optimism, hope, and imagination of the previous film, with a slightly broader focus on why community matters—whether that community be the multicultural upper-class neighborhood of Windsor Gardens or the down-on-their-luck inmates of Portabello Prison. To Paddington and Paddington 2, there is no difference. Every one deserves to be treated like a human, including our most vulnerable populations, whether that be immigrants or prisoners.
One of the most affecting, powerful, and subversive scenes sees the transformation of a prison from a drab, institutional setting that discourages any kind of community or camaraderie to a cozily-lit space where residents share their family recipes and get bedtime stories over the intercom every night before sleeping. Yes, it’s a simplistic imagining of what prison reform could look like, but it’s just as important as gritty depictions aimed at shocking the system into change. We could all stand to hold the world to Paddington’s high, kind standards.
Visually, Paddington 2 is just as stunning and inventive as the first. Like its predecessor, the film revels in exploring different forms and formats—hand-drawn animation, scaled dollhouse sequences, archival footage, a musical sequence, and a scrapbook epilogue that accompanies the credits. The flexibility of form pushes the film into magical reality at times, imbuing the form with the same sense of wonder Paddington seems to see in his everyday life.
In one memorable sequence, a London pop-up book comes to life. Paddington imagines showing Aunt Lucy the sights of London not in the world as we know it, but in pop-up book form. They play with the paper pigeons in Trafalgar Square and jump onto a double-decker bus that looks as if it has been colored with crayon. We don’t just hear about Paddington’s desire to share this place that means so much to him with this person who means so much to him; we see it, and therefore feel it.
Paddington 2‘s broader focus gives us less time to spend with the Browns, but that doesn’t mean they’re not an integral part of the film. Rather than falling into the sequel trap of retreading the character development of the original, Paddington 2 builds on the familial bond forged in the first film. There is no doubt that the Browns would ever give up on Paddington here. Family means no one gets left behind.
Older daughter Judy gets the best stuff in these portions. In the time since the first film, she has broken up with first boyfriend Tony and started her own newspaper. Armed with her audio recorder, pen, notebook, and Canon camera, she is an active part of hunting down Buchanan, making for a refreshingly ambitious representation of a teen girl.
The returning cast—including Hugh Bonneville’s anxious Mr. Brown, Sally Hawkins’ eccentric and kind Mrs. Brown, Samuel Joslin’s Jonathan, Peter Capaldi’s xenophobic curmudgeon, and Julie Walters’ Mrs. Bird—is joined by some new faces: Jessica Stevenson plays Miss Kitts, the local news seller, complete with parrot friend Feathers. Ben Miller plays Colonel Lancaster, a stoic neighborhood man who suffers from depression. Sanjeev Bhaskar plays Dr. Jafri, another neighbor fond of Paddington. It makes for a crowded story, one that Paddington 2 handles deftly, but the story would have benefitted from fewer supporting characters, leaving more development for the ones who remained.
And in the center of it all is Paddington, a character whose motivation is nothing as selfish as glory or wealth, like antagonist Buchanan, but rather a fundamental desire to belong, to be part of something larger than himself: a family, a community, a home.
Paddington 2 is a feel-good masterpiece, a cinematic salve for the prejudice of our times. Vibrant and kind, it imagines a better world for all of us. It is a movie where the main character’s “superpower” isn’t the ability to fly or jump a building in a single bound, but rather an earnestness and empathy that makes everyone around Paddington more earnest and empathetic too.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Paddington. May this franchise go on forever.