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« Harriet Sansom Harris in Phantom Thread | Main | 50 days til Oscar. 50 movies with no Oscar love »
Sunday
Jan142018

"Paddington 2" Review 

By Spencer Coile  

In theory, the first Paddington film, inspired by the Michael Bond books about a loveable bear who sports a red hat blue coat and has a penchant for marmalade, was a dangerous idea. Live-action modern tellings of classic children’s literature always runs the risk of flying off the rails – look no further than the 2003 disaster, The Cat in the Hat.

Cat in the Hat, Paddington fortunately was not. If anything, Paul King’s 2015 film provided a delightful, and importantly, timely tale about finding a place to call home. Appreciative audiences were struck with its whimsical but mature comparisons to immigration and acceptance of the Other. And luckily, fans of the first film will be pleased to know that Paddington 2 not only lives up to its predecessor, but improves upon it...

Paddington 2 opens with the titular bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw) fully settled into his home with the Brown family (led by Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins). Years on now he is a beloved member of his community, making friends and causing mischief wherever he goes. When Paddington finds an antique pop-up book with illustrations of landmarks in London, he is determined to make enough money to buy it and send it to Peru for his dear Aunt Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton); it was always her dream to see London. 

Paddington's earnest dreams are dashed when the book is stolen by the film's dastardly villain, Phoenix Buchanan (a BAFTA-nominated Hugh Grant), an egotistical, washed up actor who has dreams of his own. Buchanan wants to stage a one-man show on the West End. Framed for the actor's crime, Paddington is sent to prison, leaving the Brown family scrambling to figure out who wronged their loveable bear. 

Director Paul King, who created a wholly unique and heartfelt creation with Paddington, has somehow managed to top the charm and wit of the first film -- leading to a more rambunctious and relevant sequel. Blending together Marx Brothers-inspired slapstick and a quirky aesthetic rivaled only by Wes Anderson, King transports us to a world that feels both real and fantastical. Because we are given no indication of the film's time period, Paddington 2 feels timeless -- relying on its audience to suspend their disbelief and take part in the movie magic.

This is a feat achieved by an entire team. Aided by some stunning production design from Gary Williamson and a lush score from Dario Marianelli, Paddington 2 feels like a real-life pop-up book opened up just for our wonder. And yet, while it zooms by and is utterly charming, there is a level of thoughtfulness that separates Paddington 2 from other family-friendly films. The story may appeal to children, but King also finds a way to impart adult wisdom at the heart of his film: be good. It is a simple thought, but one that apparently still bears reminding (no pun intended). 

Many of my friends scoffed when I told them I was seeing Paddington 2, but moreso, that I was excited to see it. And while some may write it off as a children's movie and nothing more, I believe that we need a movie like Paddington 2. Politically and socially, we are at our most volatile -- even the Oscar race has people getting pessimistic! Everything seems to be going wrong, nothing is ever good enough. In this troubling atmosphere Paddington 2 is a kind antidote to the negativity consuming us. 

There is a climactic scene where Paddington's family and neighbors rally around him, claiming that through his kindness, they are finally able to see the good in the world. And, very much like the first film, that is what Paddington 2 encourages: compassion, empathy, and acceptance. While Paddington may have begun as a risky project, Paddington 2 proves again that it was a risk worth taking. We need this bear and his family more than ever.  

Grade: A-

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