Director: Paul King
Writers: Paul King (written by), Simon Farnaby (written by), Michael Bond (“Paddington Bear” created by)
Starring: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant, Hugh Bonneville
Runtime: 103 mins
MPAA Rating: PG
You are probably wondering if a children’s film about a well-mannered little animated bear who gets into light-hearted mischief while helping and bringing joy to all those around him is really one of the best that 2018 has to offer. You’re darn right it is! The overwhelming majority of children’s entertainment is made with a pathetic degree of laziness. After all, the audience is just stupid kids who will digest anything with talking animated characters. Paddington 2 is refreshing to see in that the filmmakers put lots of effort into all aspects of the production, most notably, the characters, the visual presentation, and the comedy.
Paddington (Ben Whishaw) is the most likable character possibly in cinematic history. He is innocent, humorous, persistently helpful, committed to good manners, and deeply committed to both his blood and adopted relatives. In fact, the whole plot revolves around him attempting to perform an act of kindness for his aunt. Aunt Lucy, who forewent her lifelong dream of visiting London in order to raise Paddington after his parents die, is approaching her 100th birthday. Paddington finds a pop-up book of London in a pawn shop and begins working all sorts of odd jobs in order to purchase it for her as a birthday gift. However, the villainous Hugh Grant also has eyes on this pop-up book as it is necessary for his own rapacious goal. The film is entertaining throughout as Paddington endearingly bumbles his way through various tasks, even ending up in prison at one point where he is able to engender the favor of even the most hard-hearted criminals.
The entire production put effort into presenting a distinct visual style and its quality stands out. Much of the colorful production design and precisely-framed visual presentation is reminiscent of Wes Anderson. One of my favorite sequences involves Paddington day-dreaming his way into the aforementioned pop-up book as he imagines his Aunt Lucy visiting the city; it is really neat to watch the two bears move around the intricately-crafted paper environment as the pages turn. This movie is littered with imaginative visuals and is extremely memorable as a result of director Paul King’s vision and efforts.
The comedy is what makes this film watchable for people of all ages. The visual gags are actually funny and creatively directed. There are a number of shots from non-traditional angles and camera motions that make such scenes more lively. For example, there is a scene in which Paddington commits a series of blunders in a barbershop, employing a variety of clever visuals including a point-of-view shot and a shot where the camera is affixed right in front of Paddington’s face as he is flung about by a ceiling fan. It is all so ridiculous yet so enjoyable to watch. This film shines when visual comedy is the centerpiece and will entertain audience members regardless of age. The characters and their interactions are all very British, and if you like British humor (as I do), you should get a kick out of a lot of the written jokes as well.
Many actors who appear in children’s films are very obviously phoning in their performance for a paycheck. That is not the case in this movie. Every actor really dives into his or her role, and, as a result, there is life and energy from scene to scene. Many of the characters are funny in their own right apart from their interactions with Paddingon. Hugh Grant is clearly having a blast as the wacky thespian villain and his over-the-top performance is actually humorous when it very easily could have just been obnoxious. The husband-wife relationship between Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins is genuinely amusing. Brendan Gleeson also has a lot of fun with his role as the intense prison chef who has a change of heart. Without these supporting actors leveraging their talent, the film would lose a substantial amount of charm.
The only major issue I have is that the third act tapers off into a slew of goofy action which gets pretty dumb and my interest started to drift. However, the film quickly recovers with a touching ending. No, there is not a lot of dramatic tension, and yes, most parts are predictable if you are over the age of 10. However, I didn’t care as I stayed attached to the likable characters and immersive visuals. I had a smile on my face for pretty much the entirety of the runtime. Not many films can do that. I can’t recommend a better film from this past year that parents and kids can watch together. If you don’t like Paddington, there is no love in your heart.
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