Review: 'Paddington 2' is charming, surprisingly dense, inspirational

Our friendly protagonist and lovable klutz

Our friendly protagonist and lovable klutz Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

These days, it can be difficult to remember that good, kindness, and basic human decency still exist in the world. That’s why it’s nice to see another Paddington movie in theaters: This plucky little bear embodies an idealism that should not be forgotten, no matter how cynical the world tries to make us.

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.

Putting all the pieces together, Paddington 2 becomes as cohesive as it is compassionate. There’s an innate sweetness here that seems to be missing from a lot of contemporary fare, and it’s encouraging to know Paddington’s virtuous old-timey ethos not only connects with today’s moviegoer, but inspires. So says the tiny bear:

“If we are kind and polite, the world will be right.”

I want to believe, Paddington. I want to believe.

Paddington 2
Director: Paul King
Starring: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant, Hugh Bonneville
Rated: PG
Theater: Now playing, area theaters