When the first Paddington movie came to theaters in 2015, it became an unexpected phenomenon, earning universal praise from critics and nearly $300 million at the box office. The film was celebrated for its effortless charm and undeniable heart and beloved by adults and children alike. The highly anticipated sequel hit theaters this week with a bonkers good cast and sky high expectations. The bad news? It’s only 102 minutes long. The good news? Paddington 2 is incredibly good. It’s genuinely how hard to express how charming this movie about a Peruvian bear going to English jail actually is. Very. Very very very.
The movie begins with Paddington happily sheltered at the bosom of the Brown family. Eager to show his affection for his people, he decides he wants to buy an expensive pop-up book for his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday. The tiny talking bear goes about this by performing a series of odd jobs to earn money. But, just when he is prepared to purchase the book, it’s mysteriously stolen. Paddington is accused of being the thief and sent to jail for a crime he didn’t commit. As the Brown family works together to figure out who the real culprit is, Paddington must try to survive the harsh and dangerous world of prison.
The plot may sound a bit dark for a kid’s movie, but it’s actually bumptious and joyful thanks to the unceasing optimism of the titular jailbird and excellent art direction. In prison, Paddington manages to win over his fellow inmates thanks to his genuine kindness. And, hokey as that sounds, it all comes across as totally genuine. The reason for this is that Paddington, unlike many other beloved characters, is full of hope, but not at all naive. He does not assume that life is going to be fair or that the people around him are good. He actively chooses to believe in himself and others. Why? Because he knows the only way the world will improve is if he does everything he can to improve it.
Again, this should be annoying in practice. It is not. Not at all.
Much of what makes Paddington an easy hero to root for begins with the masterful voice work of Ben Wishaw — best known at the latest Q in the Bond movies — who captures the character’s boundless enthusiasm with a dash of goofy wit. Beyond the iconic main character, Paddington 2 features basic every British actor currently living, including Hugh Grant, who slays, Brendan Gleeson, who has never been bad in everything, Sally Hawkins, who Americans will get to know this awards season, and Peter Capaldi, who is an obscene, grumpy, and fucking vital institution. Gleeson deserves a bit of extra ink for his portrayal of Knuckles McGinty, the irascible prison chef who becomes an unlikely friend to Paddington during his stay behind bars. Knuckles and Paddington have real chemistry, which is impressive given that Gleeson was not in fact — spoiler alert — performing with a tiny bear.
It’s impressive that none of the performances feel arch or read as cameos. The fourth wall remains unbroken. This significantly augments the experience of watching the movie because it not only feels like it’s about a generous character, but that it was generously made.
While Paddington 2 is certainly heartwarming, the film is also filled with thrilling adventure and cheeky humor from start to finish thanks to director Paul King, who also co-wrote the script. The movie consistently mines laughs from slapstick that never feels stale or forced. Watching Paddington attempt to evade the London Police Force is surprisingly exhilarating, thanks, in large part, to the top-notch CGI done by Framestore, the people responsible for Baby Groot. Paddington never looks like a puppet. He looks like a bear. He feels like one too.
The real world is, unfortunately, filled with mediocre kid’s films and unwatchable sequels. Paddington 2 is the rare second part that equals or exceeds its predecessor. The only thing worrisome about Paddington 2 is that it will inevitably lead to Paddington 3 and one wonders if deviation to the mean is inevitable. For the moment, let’s choose to think like Paddington and believe that what is great will stay great forever.