Children movie whimsy is a real double-edged sword. While it may be a requirement for family films to have an atmosphere of brightly colored, bubbly wonder, there can be too much sugary sweetness in one movie. On top of that, a movie filled with nothing but fluff can seem boring and ultimately pointless. There is a way to organize how much whimsy is in a movie and where and when to execute it. As much as it sounds like fun in kids movies requires a math equation to figure out, there are clearly ways to make something as great as The Lego Movie and Up or as terrible as The Emoji Movie and Norm of the North.
Somehow and some way, the 2014 adaptation of Michael Bond’s cuddly british bear Paddington found that secret formula and mixed in enough British twee and genuine heart to be one of the most shockingly good kids movies of the decade (maybe even of all time). Perhaps it was writer/director Paul King’s obvious love for classic children’s adventure stories without the slightest hint of modern cynicism that made Paddington jump off the screen or the collection of supporting players like Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville or even Ben Whishaw’s winning charm voicing the title character that makes it all work. Regardless, Paddington seemed like a preserved jewel in a time capsule completely devoid of the usual trappings of kids movies. The bad news is that Hollywood hasn’t seemed to learn anything from Paddington (The Emoji Movie got made and released, didn’t it?). The good news is that lightning strikes twice for the marmalade-loving fuzzball.
Paddington 2‘s breezy plot revolves around our titular hero (again voiced by Whishaw) looking to get his Aunt Lucy a birthday present. While he’s loved by his adoptive family, the Browns, and everyone in the neighborhood, Paddington still has to get a job to pay for an old pop-up book of London and send it to his retired aunt. But a pompous, out-of-work actor (Hugh Grant) steals the book in hopes that it holds a secret treasure map to great fortune. Paddington is mistaken as the thief and is sent to prison, where he befriends a cranky chef (Brendan Gleeson) and tries to breakout. Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Brown (Bonneville and Hawkins) try to clear Paddington’s name while hijinks ensue all around.
At its core, Paddington 2 plays the greatest hits of the first movie: Paddington tries doing something, his size or incompetence interferes, slapstick ensues. The returning characters also have similar character dynamics: Mr. Brown is still a suit-wearing square while Mrs. Brown remains a quirky eccentric. Paddington’s charm and manners win the day no matter how ridiculous the circumstances are. And all of that is fine, as Paddington 2’s brisk pacing and consistent tone of fun (but not overbearing) makes for an easy and delightful viewing experience. There’s no potty humor, no cheap pop culture references and no unnecessary adult jokes to distract from the atmosphere of the movie. Paddington 2 is proud to be in its own universe of manners, wonder and imagination, a mix of vaudevillian energy and the classic style of motion picture comedy from the 1930s. It’s fitting that the movie’s central treasure is a pop-up book, as the movie’s setpieces and color scheme practically jump off the screen. There are even certain moments where the comic timing, color scheme and set design harkens to Wes Anderson, specifically The Grand Budapest Hotel with the pink color scheme in Paddington 2’s prison set.
Paddington 2’s greatest asset and detriment is the easily digestible clip it moves at. It’s lovely to look at but goes by very fast. At 103 minutes, merely eight minutes longer than the first movie, the movie whizzes by with most of the movie’s plot threads easily predictable with almost too cheery of a resolution. Just when the movie’s messages of kindness and manners and family and all that schmaltz rears it head in each scene, we jump to the next one smoothly for the next set-up. And everyone in front of the camera is on board with it. Whishaw’s charm and heart is still ever present despite being hidden in a CGI bear, while Hawkins and Bonneville make minor but humorous impressions. The newest members of the Paddington crew stand out as well, with Grant playing up his pompous exquisiteness like Frank Gorshin doing a Laurence Olivier impression. Gleeson uses his looming presence to turn himself into the lovable oaf of the movie, not unlike he did as Mad Eye Moody in the Harry Potter films.
As a sequel, Paddington 2 is a friendly reminder of how fresh and enjoyable the previous film was by refreshing the elements of the original without rehashing it. As a kids movie, Paddington 2 is a much-needed reminder of how rewarding it can be to be kind to others and how contagious that kindness can be. The world of Paddington 2 may seem like some flimsy form of utopia, but it’s not that far-fetched even if it’s all started by a talking teddy bear. It’s all from a consistent act of human decency, something sadly lost in today’s generation. Let’s hope Paddington’s warmth and humanity rolls onto the next generation as smoothly as marmalade on bread.