“Aunt Lucy said: if we’re kind and polite, the world will be right.”
With Paddingtonserving as an origin story for the Peruvian bear in London, its sequel is able to launch straight into a delightful adventure that will leave both children and adults beaming. If the original was an immigrant story, Paddington 2 highlights the importance — and difficulty — of maintaining contact with one’s roots. It is less dependent on Hugh Bonneville than its predecessor, with Hugh Grant hamming up a mercurial actor talking to himself in outlandish disguises, whilst Brendan Gleeson is the intimidating inmate that the diminutive bear must win over when wrongly incarcerated. Those prison scenes are some of the film’s best, showcasing Paddington’s charming openness as more than simple naiveté. The unrecognisably neighbourly version of London can be harder to swallow than a talking bear, but the film never dwells too long on its more saccharine elements. The style may be less fresh than last time, but there is still plenty of creativity on display like Paddington waltzing through the illustrations of a pop-up book. The rapid pacing also benefits from having most of the key characters already established, though it makes space for moments of quieter emotion and humour too. The result is simply the best live-action family adventure in years.
“Mrs Brown says that in London everyone is different, and that means anyone can fit in. I think she must be right — because although I don’t look like anyone else, I really do feel at home.”
Ben Whishaw voices the marmalade-loving bear from darkest Peru with an adorable charm and naiveté that Colin Firth (previously considered for the role) would have struggled to bring. Paddington is a timely immigrant story about how we all benefit from embracing our differences. Much of this rests on Hugh Bonneville as Mr Brown, as he moves from initial mistrust to concern for his family to ultimate acceptance. The film is structured as a caper story culminating in an escape sequence with enjoyable nods for adult viewers to franchises like Indiana Jones and Mission Impossible. Of particular note is the surprising calypso soundtrack (the music of Notting Hill immigrants when Michael Bond wrote his books), with a band appearing around London to mirror Paddington’s mood.
“When he looks at me, the way he looks at me. He does not know what I lack or how I am incomplete. He sees me for what I am, as I am.”
What if Guillermo del Toro made a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film? There is a surprisingly whimsical tone as we are introduced to the life of mute Elisa and the idiosyncrasies of her few friends. This merges with del Toro’s signature eye for detail in fantasy creatures when she discovers the amphibian man imprisoned at the lab in which she works (it is a big year for the underappreciated Doug Jones between this role and Saru, the best character in Star Trek: Discovery). The bond between the two forms the core of the film, surrounded by a series of strong supporting performances. Drawing together disparate aspects of drama, fantasy, a heist, romance and espionage, this is a stunning, unusual piece of filmmaking that is more than the sum of its parts and lingers long afterward.