Conventional wisdom holds that sequels just aren’t better than the films that came before them. In general, that’s true. Paddington 2 is a happy exception. The curious-to-the-point-of-mischievous, but unfailingly kind bear returns to the big screen for a grand adventure with his new family, the Browns, and the friends he’s made all around the neighborhood. After Paddington finds the perfect present for his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday in a local antique shop, he takes up a job to buy it for her. But when an evildoer with an agenda catches wind of the would-be gift and swipes it, Paddington is the one to come under suspicion. One curmudgeonly judge later and he’s locked up.
Now, being ripped from the Browns and tossed in a drab prison with criminals isn’t what any of us want for the sweet bear with the marmalade habit, but wouldn’t you know it, Paddington’s unflagging warmth floods that place too, winning him friends and compatriots to help him bide the time until the Browns can clear his name. The film, like its protagonist, brims with joy and kindness. It’s a ray of light in the often bleak landscape of January cinema.
And what’s more, it’s the rare family film with true multi-generational appeal. Perhaps that’s down to the presence of so many wonderful British talents — here Sally Hawkins is, weeks away from another Oscar nod, giving every bit of her skill and passion to a film that finds her following a mysterious trail of clues to investigate iconic London landmarks and dreaming up shenanigans to uncover evidence to support her elaborate theory about the true thief. And alongside her, we have Hughes Grant and Bonneville, as well as Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, Imelda Staunton, Brendan Gleason and Joanna Lumley. And that’s not to mention Ben Whishaw’s work as the bear himself. I defy you to listen to him intone his mantra, “If we’re kind and polite, the world will be right,” and not feel a sense of optimism.
Indeed, Paddington seems to be the little bear we need to set the right tone for 2018 — if it’ll bring a little kindness back to a cynical world, perhaps we should all start carrying emergency marmalade sandwiches everywhere we go. But, until that comes to pass, we should all see this silly, sweet, and yes, spectacular little picture.