Paddington 2 finds our ursine hero (voiced by Ben Whishaw) now wholly enmeshed in the day-to-day goings-on of the Brown family and London’s Windsor Gardens. Paddington brings one neighbor breakfast, helps another with his keys, studies with his garbageman pal, and basically just helps out whoever he can (despite being a bit of a klutz).
But far away in darkest Peru, his aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday approaches, which gives Paddington paws (ahem) for thought: What could he get her that would be truly special? As he searches through an antique shop, Paddington finds a pop-up book of London he deems the perfect gift. The only problem is the book’s exorbitant price, which leads the young bear to take on a series of odd jobs to raise the funds. But just as Paddington saves enough money for the book, a thief steals it, and Paddington is framed for the crime.
This really only scratches the surface, and that’s one of the most impressive things about Paddington 2. It’s an unexpectedly dense film.In many ways you have a straight-up, old-school kids’ movie. It doesn’t feel as modern or clever as a Pixar feature, by design, but it’s also a masterclass in traditional storytelling. In line with the principle of Chekhov’s Gun, every element of the story is necessary. From Paddington 2’s onset, we’re flooded with clues and plot points integral to the story’s outcome, some so minute you’d hardly give them a second thought. No thread is left dangling, and that makes for an extremely satisfying narrative.
But Paddington 2 won’t just appeal to screenwriting nerds. It’s almost archaically tender, though never mawkish, and that makes for a pleasantness that’s surprisingly resonant with children and adults alike. It’s not just the gentle Paddington that sells it, though—the supporting cast is skillfully fleshed out both on the page and by a slew of talented actors.
Hugh Bonneville and Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins are equal parts funny and endearing as Paddington’s adoptive parents. Brendan Gleeson, whose dramatic abilities are criminally under-appreciated, shows off A+ comedic chops as prison cook Knuckles McGinty. And Hugh Grant gives a performance worth a few award nods as the nefarious and/or insane Phoenix Buchanan, a faded theater star who does dog food advertisements when he’s not hunting down a secret fortune.PADDINGTON 2. Actor Xian Lim lends his voice to the lovable bear in ‘Paddington 2.’ All screenshots from YouTube/Warner Bros Pictures
Paul King’s Paddington 2 ends with a spritely song-and-dance number worthy of a spot in London’s prestigious West End.
What’s particularly hilarious about the number is that it is performed not just by hardened convicts but by the fact that those supposedly vicious criminals are all strutting their way down the prison’s prettified steel stairs in matching pink-and-black prison garb. As a madcap finale to a film that delights in all things wistfully peculiar, it’s just absolutely fabulous.The moral of the story however is that it all the unabashed joy and pleasure of that rousing farewell began with one red sock left by an absent-minded but the well-meaning titular Peruvian bear in washing machine full of striped black-and-white uniforms.
The comeuppance for the bear’s slight error are dagger-like stares and vicious taunts from his co-convicts, now donning pastel-hued overalls that could’ve retailed for quite a sum of money in a Paul Smith store. From there, the bear rises the ranks, earns the trust of the prison’s powerful head honcho with his marmalade sandwich, turns the cafeteria into a dainty boulangerie, and even has the once stern and stringent warden recite bedtime stories to put all the restless criminals to bed.
Sure, it all seems played for chuckles as King’s garish visuals pit rough edges with colors more suited for cupcakes or jellybeans.
However, a closer look at the prison’s delightful journey in the hands of an overly optimistic bear should result in something more profound. The two Paddington films have always championed the other and this sequel, which finds itself in a world that is slowly being ripped apart by intolerance and isolationism, feels alarmingly relevant. With all the negativity in the world, we’ve come to resemble spent and soiled clothes in need of a dash of pink that may come from a red sock, an oddity that we should come to embrace rather than ostracize.
King’s film, while navigating an intricate narrative involving the stealing of a pop-up book and the frame-up of the much-beloved furry protagonist, keeps everything jolly, proper and courteous. There is not a whiff of vulgarity or divisiveness, just good-natured entertainment by way of wit and slapstick.Over at aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the movie has 167 Fresh reviews and no naysayers, overtaking Toy Story 2‘s 163 Fresh and 0 negative critiques. There’s a codicil that should be added here: in November 2017, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird surpassed Toy Story 2 on the Fresh side, but was later knocked down a percentage point by one negative review, landing it at 99% Fresh. Paddington 2 has a 100% Fresh score.
The multi BAFTA-nominated sequel sees the return of Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Peter Capaldi and Jim Broadbent, and has Hugh Grant and Brendan Gleeson joining the CGI bear’s adventures — he’s voiced again by Ben Whishaw. King and Simon Farnaby wrote the movie that’s based on the Michael Bond creation.
Director King tells me of the RT news, “It’s incredibly gratifying. It’s such a strange process making these films which are preposterously labor-intensive. Normally you feel a film is coming into shape fairly quickly, but when it’s semi-animated so much of it evolves over the following year and you spend so many dozens of hours in darkened rooms looking at incredibly small details. You get incredibly meticulous and controll-y over every last frame. But there’s a danger you entirely lose your mind — and there’s an extraordinary moment when your head comes above water and the first response is from critics.”
The film was finished, King says, “on a Wednesday at 11 and we screened it at about 2PM that afternoon” for critics. “It’s a strange experience and you can’t help but hope for the best for this little character and the film you’ve created. It’s very lovely they were warm and enthusiastic.”
The success is extra sweet given the bear of a situation the movie had to deal with domestically. The Weinstein Co had released the first movie and had an option on this one. In the wake of the mountain of sexual harassment and assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein, the North American distribution fate of Paddington 2 was ultimately resolved when Warner Bros beat out Sony, Lionsgate and Global Road to take over the movie in a bidding war that reached $30M.
In North America, P2 was somewhat soft at open. But in a crowded market it finished its first week at $16.8M with strong mid-weeks. Says WB’s Jeff Goldstein, “The key for us is the hold this coming weekend. Given the rare 100% Certified Fresh on RT as well as the A CinemaScore, we are encouraged for strong holds and a long play.”
Warner Bros took over the movie mere weeks before its release date, and has done, King says, “an amazing job.” He notes that “younger kids are probably not reading film reviews or on Twitter” and adds, “Hopefully the parents are reading reviews to children. I dream of households across America going, ‘Hey, son, listen to this metric. This is arguably the most appreciated film in history.’” More seriously, he says, “I hope it will be one of those miracle films and people spread the word. Fingers crossed it’ll be the little train that could. The good thing is that it’s not one of these $200 million behemoths that needs to take in $1 billion.”
It certainly looks to cross $200M worldwide. Currently at $163M, it’s still got Japan, Russia, Brazil, Korea and Mexico among majors to come. The current Top 5 worldwide markets are the UK ($55M), China ($31M), the U.S. ($16.8M), France ($13.7M) and Germany ($9.1M).