‘Paddington 2’ has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and its message is even more important for adults than it is for kids.
Paddington 2, which comes to Blu-ray and DVD April 24, has 100% fresh reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.
I walked into the theater to see Paddington 2 in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon, expecting to laugh along with the few other people who cleared their schedules to watch a movie about a talking bear in London. I laughed plenty, as writer-director Paul King and his team have mastered the understated comedy used in the first movie. But as the film’s final shot ended and the credits began to roll, I was overcome with emotion by its moral message, even if it is supposed to be simple enough for children to grasp.
Paddington Brown — the adopted bear originally from “darkest Peru” — is selfless, even when he’s introduced to the horrors of the real world and people who are nothing like him. Regardless of someone’s gruff exterior he’s able to bring out their friendly side, and his commitment to bettering the lives of his loved ones is endless. In the real world, it’s easy to eschew our responsibilities and take care of our own problems first, but by the time I left the theater, I felt compelled to find joy in other people’s joy.
Set a short time after the events of the original film (or a few years, based on the Brown kids’ ages) Paddington 2 sees the polite and optimistic bear searching for the perfect birthday present for Aunt Lucy, who is turning 100 years old. Not content to send anything but the best back home to Peru, he eventually finds an antique pop-up book in best friend Mr. Gruber’s shop, but the high price means Paddington has to get a job. It’s here that some of the film’s slapstick comedy is most prominent, much to younger viewers’ delight, but King and cowriter Simon Farnaby never abandon the bear’s go-with-the-flow attitude. Though he initially fails as a window washer, stumbling over himself with a bucket of water on his head, he ends up making the best of a bad situation. After accidentally slamming into a neighbor’s window while covered in soap, Paddington just sticks around and cleans it anyway.
His peers find him peculiar, but Paddington’s positivity inevitably affects even the coldest hearts. He doesn’t have a bad word to say about anyone, at least not intentionally. There are a few moments when the bear accidentally throws out an insult, such as when he speculates that Mr. Brown is “about 80, at least,” but the line is delivered without a hint of sarcasm by the perfectly cast Ben Wishaw. Paddington is genuine, loving and always committed to his mantra: “If we’re kind and polite, the world will be right.”
The mantra is infectious, managing to change the unfriendly Mr. Brown into a more loving and nurturing father. Londoners of all races and creeds come together with a newfound sense of community and selflessness, understanding that those around them will pay their kindness forward.
Of course, there is always one person ready to spoil the fun, and in Paddington 2, it’s Hugh Grant’s devilish thespian Phoenix Buchanan. An underemployed star hoping to reclaim his former glory in a one-man show, Buchanan sets his sights on the same pop-up book Paddington is looking to purchase, believing it hides a secret treasure map in its pages. Rather than buy it for himself and publicly undermine the bear, he steals it and manages to escape as Paddington rushes after him. Naturally, Paddington is convicted of the crime while Buchanan walks free and even aids the prosecution during the trial.
Buchanan doesn’t do evil deeds for the sake of doing them, but simply because they benefit him more than doing something altruistic would. It’s for this reason that, despite his over-the-top characterization, he acts as a warning sign to adult viewers. If you don’t stop and think about the feelings and wishes of those around you every once in a while, this is what you could become. The desire for material gain or fame can become great enough to make you forget the warm feeling you get from making someone else’s life better. Perhaps Phoenix would’ve been happier if he’d bought the book for Paddington instead!
There wouldn’t be much of a movie if that happened, however, and Paddington is sent to jail. It’s a place meant to resemble what kids think jail is like — with striped uniforms, limited security guards and a distinct lack of shanking — but it’s still the first time the furry juvenile really sees the dark side of the world. When his request to have a story read to him before bed is denied, your heart can’t help but sink, and as he loses hope that justice will prevail and he’ll ever be released, his tears turn into yours. How can the world be so cruel to someone who wishes only joy to those around him?
The scenes largely represent a turning point in our own lives and the anger that can come along with maturing, but Paddington’s response isn’t to grow bitter, as many of us did. Instead, he makes the most of the situation, spreading kindness and joy to his fellow inmates and turning the prison into a community. Unrealistic, certainly, but this is a film about a talking bear.
What Paddington goes through would turn any reasonable child into an angst-filled teenager, only becoming an adult when they learn to love the world anyway. Poet Alden Nowlan summarized this transition: “The day the child realizes that all adults are imperfect, he becomes an adolescent; the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult.”
Paddington has remained the same age and size since his first book was published nearly 60 years ago, so perhaps he forgave the adults of the world long ago. For everyone else, though, learning to do so requires realizing imperfection is normal, and even those we love will make mistakes. By staying true to our own deep-rooted desire to do good for others, we’ll find the world becomes a more pleasant place for everyone. It helps if our innocence is proven and we’re released from prison, as was the case for Paddington, of course.
As I sat by myself and thought about how my own life would be better if I hadn’t lost sight of that kindness, I broke down. Yes, I cried because of Paddington 2. I knew my own (occasional) bitterness meant I hadn’t completed that transition. But the Alden Nowlan quote mentioned earlier has one final part, and it brought me the comfort I needed.
“The day he forgives himself, he becomes wise.”
Learning to love those who don’t show us love in return isn’t naive or foolish. It is wise, as our own emotional health cannot hold strong in the face of cynicism. I’m sure I’ll lose sight of that sometimes, as we all do, but I can always sit down and watch Paddington 2 to get myself back on track.
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