Between the freezing weather, the post-holiday blahs, and the impending threat of a Trump State of the Union address, there’s a lot to feel grumpy about in January 2018.
Fortunately, the cure for what ails you is as close as your local theater.
Paddington 2 is just the pick-me-up you’re looking for: sweet and funny, with a persistent optimism that’ll leave you feeling warm and cozy on the inside (if not on the outside, because January). In other words, it’s just the movie you need in this no-good month.
Paddington 2 is really, really good
Paddington 2 made headlines last week when Rotten Tomatoes announced that it was officially their best-reviewed movie of all time. As I write this, it has a perfect 100% score, with 174 critical reviews counted.
The news came as a surprise to some – really? The goofy-looking kids’ flick about the talking CG bear? – but it shouldn’t have. The first Paddington was a critical fave, too, with an impressive 98% on Rotten Tomatoes.
What’s more, there’s a simple explanation for Paddington 2‘s sky-high score: It’s very, very good. (Maybe not “best movie of all time” good, but that’s more an issue with the Rotten Tomatoes rating system than it is Paddington 2, or the glowing reviews for it.) The trailers don’t do the movie justice.
No, you don’t need to have seen the last film
For the uninitiated, Paddington is a young bear raised in the Peruvian jungle by his Aunt Lucy and Uncle Pastuzo. In the last film, he migrated alone to London, where he took up with a human family called the Browns.
In this one, Paddington sets out to buy his aunt Lucy a birthday present. Unfortunately, a devious actor named Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant, about whom more later) steals that gift and frames Paddington for the deed. Our dear little bear gets sent to jail, while the Browns get to work clearing his name.
The misadventures of Paddington 2 range from silly and slapstick-y (Paddington accidentally shaves off a guy’s hair) to whimsical and Wes Anderson-y (there’s a sequence involving a makeshift hot-air balloon) to laugh-out-loud funny (we’ll leave those surprises for you to discover).
Through it all, there’s a strong emotional spine that might bring tears from your eyes from time to time, and a surprisingly smart commentary on immigration. And at a very reasonable 104 minutes, it all goes down as easily as a spoonful of sugar. Or marmalade, as it were.
Paddington sees the good in people
Paddington lives by the mantra, passed down to him by his dear aunt Lucy, that “if we’re kind and polite, the world will be right.” He looks for the best in people, and finds it far more often than not.
In his own way, Paddington is as righteous a hero as Wonder Woman or Captain America – a soul so earnestly pure-hearted that he seems to make everyone else around him better, just by being himself. (Though Paddington himself would probably blush at that comparison if he heard it. He seems like a pretty modest bear.)
Even in jail, Paddington finds a way to connect with his fellow inmates. Paddington’s not perfect – his guilelessness often leads to wacky hijinks or misunderstandings – but his greatest strength is a willingness to approach everyone he meets with an open heart and a hopeful smile. He has a way of disarming even the toughest criminals – like Knuckles (Brendan Gleeson), the surly prison cook who becomes Paddington’s pal.
That faith in one’s fellow humans feels like a welcome contrast to the real world right now, with its social-media screaming matches and its political pissing contests. Paddington 2 is a reminder that the world doesn’t always have to be this way, and that sometimes, the change starts with trying to be a better, more open person yourself.
Paddington 2 is a defense of immigrants
Paddington’s approach has also been a boon to his quaint little corner of London, which is lined with pastel houses and filled with multicultural faces. An early sequence shows how much Paddington’s neighbors appreciate his friendship – he’s a beloved member of the community, invaluable in his own tiny way.
One person who is decidedly not won over by Paddington, however, is Mr. Curry (Peter Capaldi), a local crank who regards Paddington with resentment and suspicion. When Paddington gets sent to jail (in large part, it seems, because police were all too ready to believe the bear did it) Mr. Curry takes great satisfaction in scolding his neighbors: “You opened your doors to him, and all along he was robbing you blind.”
To be sure, Paddington 2 isn’t pitched as an explicitly political film. Curry’s animosity is a minor detail, not a major plotline, and the film doesn’t spend too much time dwelling on his sour point of view. Moreover, this is still a pretty white film – all the major characters are white, and even Paddington himself is voiced by a white man, Ben Whishaw.
Still, for anyone who’s even remotely familiar with words like “Brexit” and phrases like “build the wall,” the parallels aren’t hard to see. And for those same people, it’ll be satisfying to see a guy like Mr. Curry get put in his place.
This is as good as Hugh Grant has ever been
Paddington’s other major nemesis, meanwhile, hates him for completely different reasons. Actually, it’s a bit misleading to say he hates Paddington at all. It’s more that Paddington has something that he wants, and he’ll throw the bear under the bus to get it.
Hugh Grant was nominated for a BAFTA for his supporting role in Paddington 2, and as with the film’s Rotten Tomatoes score, it’s only baffling if you haven’t seen the film. Because Phoenix Buchanan is a ripe, juicy role for the right kind of actor, and Grant turns out to be exactly that kind of actor.
As Phoenix, Grant gets to indulge his hammy side – make that sides, actually, since one of Phoenix’s creepier quirks involves talking to himself in the mirror in the personalities of different roles he’s played, like he’s Willem Dafoe in Spider-Man. He slips in and out of each increasingly over-the-top disguise with glee, and even gets a chance to show off his song-and-dance moves.
It’s a much sillier Grant than we’re used to seeing, and it suggests people should really start sending him more overtly comedic roles. In a film mostly driven by gentle, pleasant humor, it’s Grant who gets the biggest, most boisterous laughs.
Paddington 2 is for the whole family
And they’re laughs you can share with the whole family, because Paddington 2 is really for everyone: Hugh Grant stans, disappointed Remain voters, cute little kids with stuffed animals in tow, surly grown-ups looking for more joy in their lives.
Paddington 2 is simple enough for even the smallest children, clever enough for their parents, and mild enough for their parents. Unlike a lot of “all-ages” family movies, it doesn’t rely on cheap sentimentality, sugar-high freneticism, or sarcastic pop-culture gags. It doesn’t require any in-depth knowledge of the extended Paddington universe, or a particularly nuanced understanding of current events.
All it requires is a belief in basic human (or bear) decency, and all it asks of you is a willingness to sit back and be entertained for just under two hours. We know, we know – a cutesy live-action adventure with a cartoon bear may seem like an unlikely source of joy in this terrible month. But Paddington would never judge a book by its cover, or a movie by its poster. You shouldn’t either.