Paddington 2 , the delightful sequel to 2014's Paddington, finds Paddington Bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw) settled into his new life in London as a favorite member of the Brown family and a beloved member of the community. When Paddington discovers an antique pop-up book of London – the perfect gift to send to his Aunt Lucy in deepest Peru! – he determines to get a job and raise the money to buy it for her. But, this simple act sets off an unexpected chain of events and Paddington's quest for the book spirals into something bigger.
Keeping it simple: While simple can often mean over-done and formulaic in cinema-land, the beauty of Paddington 2 lies in its simplicity. Paddington has one simple and achievable objective throughout the movie, to earn enough money to buy the perfect present for his Aunt Lucy, and this objective is one that an audience of both children and adults can get behind. This very clear-cut goal gives the movie a classic narrative structure – goal>complication>solution – that works really well to drive the characters forward. The pacing is perfect, giving the audience enough suspense and stakes to keep us invested in the action, but also keeping it light with a heavy dose of humor and impossible-to-not-aww-at levels of adorableness from the protagonist. What the simplicity of the narrative structure also achieves, is a wonderful connection with each of the lovable cast of characters. Paddington, of course, is impossible not to adore as he spreads goodwill and happiness across the neighborhood. The love I'm sure the entire audience feels for this character gives us even more reason to stay tuned and follow the narrative to its conclusion. The Brown family are also back for this film, and the wonderful quirks of each character are explored further. As the children grow into teens they are given their own small arcs that are navigated flawlessly alongside the main plot. In the beginning of the film we see that the youngest member of the Brown family, Jonathan has given up on his love of trains in an attempt to be 'cool'. We can see immediately where this set-up will take us, Jonathan will learn that being himself is better, but when the payoff comes it is no less delightful for having been expected. It works because it is tied seamlessly to the main plot of the film, and doesn't just feel like an unnecessary, tangential narrative thread. The effortless way we see our cast of main characters grow with the narrative, really adds to the interest in the overall plot. We also get to experience the delight of Hugh Grant, shrugging off his romantic-comedy leading man coat, and settling into the role of an incredibly ridiculous villain. A Shakespearian actor, and master-of-disguise who wants to find a treasure, which will fund his one-man show. Hugh Bonneville is yet again (like in the original Paddington) the absolute show-stealer. Paddington 2 gives us a simple narrative that allows us to explore its excellent characters and carries us through to an actual heart-stopping final act, without once losing narrative interest.
Sweet, but not sickly: Thematically speaking, Paddington 2 is still quite simple. It follows a well-trodden path of themes like 'being good to others', and 'belonging', but it treads them so well. While the cynical amongst us might roll their eyes at these themes in any other feel-good family movie, Paddington 2, makes it impossible to do so. The first word that comes to mind when considering Paddington 2 is sweet, and this is largely due to the themes that run through it, but these themes never cross too far into the sickly zone, and they won't grate on the nerves of any adult audience members. I think these themes are rendered lovely, rather than irritating, because they are intertwined with the overall narrative, rather than tacked on during the resolution. The themes come across in the characters' actions, rather than in expositional dialogue. Instead of saying, 'I'm going to be myself now, being myself makes me a better person!', Jonathan takes action doing something he loves to save Paddington and his family. Instead of pointedly shouting, 'Hey kids, you should all be kind to each other!' Paddington Bear simply is kind to everyone, and we are able to see the positive results of this kindness. There's also a nod to the modern, political climate in Peter Capaldi's angry, megaphone-wielding street-dweller, who wants Paddington gone because he's not like everyone else, which is nicely-delivered in a 'kid-friendly' manner.
Anderson aesthetic: Paddington 2, and its director, Paul King, should also be applauded for the excellent aesthetic of the movie. With its pastel colors and its overall cartoonish vibe, the film feels like a Wes Anderson movie for children. There were moments when I felt like I was looking at a shot from The Grand Budapest Hotel, and like that movie, Paddington 2 is gorgeous to look at. From pastel pink prison uniforms to decadent desserts in the prison hall; the Brown's beautiful street with its colored houses to the extravagant fair; every shot is memorable and well worth seeing.
Delightfully sweet and simple, Paddington 2 is the most charming family movie of 2017.