“The Graduate.” “The Matrix.” “Dial M for Murder.” “Forrest Gump.” “Kill Bill” (both volumes). All these films are rated lower than “Paddington 2” on Letterboxd. While some may disagree with the ratings, I understand them completely. To me, “Paddington 2” is the perfect film.
The sequel opens with a flashback to Darkest Peru, Paddington’s (beautifully voiced by Ben Whishaw, “No Time to Die”) home country. Young Paddington is helplessly floating down a river, grasping onto a loose branch, when Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton, “Alice in Wonderland”) and Uncle Pastuzo (Michael Gambon, “Fantastic Mr. Fox”) save him. It’s the first time we see the three of them together, and this family dynamic is pivotal to the rest of the story.
When we get back to the present day, we follow Paddington in his life with the Brown family in London. He fits into Mr. Brown (Hugh Bonneville, “Downton Abbey,”) and Mrs. Brown’s (Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”) home like a third child. While wandering around the city, Paddington finds an antique pop-up book of London and instantly wants to buy it for his aunt. But this book happens to also catch the eye of Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant, “Notting Hill”), a washed-up actor, who manages to steal said book, frame Paddington for the theft and land him in jail. All of this happens in the first 30 minutes of the film.
“Paddington 2” is so many things. It’s a mystery, a comedy, a crime movie, an adventure story — but above all, it is a heartfelt family tale. I’m never not in the mood to watch “Paddington 2.” It’s hard to pinpoint what makes this movie so special. From the musical score to the production design (which is very Wes Anderson-esque), to the impressively well-written script, the movie exceeds expectations. As a kids’ movie, it is weirdly high quality. The London that exists in the Paddington films feels so distinctive and vivid. Every minor character has a purpose, making the film’s world feel whole. Even when you think the movie is over, there is a mid-credit musical number involving Hugh Grant singing and tap dancing in prison. It’s amazing.
But the heart of “Paddington 2,” what makes the movie so wonderful, is Paddington, the bear himself. With his little red hat and blue felt coat, Paddington Brown is a kind and curious protagonist. There are so many moments in this movie that make my heart feel like it could burst.
While trying to save up money to buy Aunt Lucy’s gift, Paddington becomes a window washer. As he makes his rounds in the neighborhood, one man initially turns Paddington away. We see this man sitting all alone and sad in his dark apartment. Perhaps Paddington can sense this man’s loneliness because he decides to wash his windows anyway. And when he does, the sun shines through, instantly lifting the neighbor’s spirits. This is who Paddington is, what Paddington stands for. Throughout the movie, you’re reminded that Paddington is really a friend to all, and I think it’s pretty impressive that a movie is able to make a CGI bear feel so real.
If you care about cinema even a little bit, “Paddington 2” should be considered required viewing. It has everything you could ask for from a movie — a prison escape, a riveting train chase sequence, Charlie Chaplin references. It’s about hope, family, truth and it’s also just a lot of fun.
I wish I could live in the Paddington universe, where bears walk the streets of London and Hugh Grant utters the words “bye-bye bear” in a villainous British accent. For now, though, I’m happy to wait for the release of “Paddington 3,” whenever that day may be.
Daily Arts Writer Judith Lawrence can be reached at email@example.com.