I absolutely loved Paddington. I love the old Paddington Bear stop-motion series. Seriously, go find it on YouTube. It’s adorable. And my second-favourite bear’s first appearance on the big screen was just as adorable. Is it possible for the sequel to be as good?
Well…pretty damn close. Paddington 2 doesn’t have anything as showstopping the flooded bathroom scene in the original, though the chase scene (Paddington riding a dog like the Lone Ranger through London) comes close. I was also more aware of the moments consciously meant to tug on the heartstrings – not that that’s a bad thing, but I found it slightly more blatant than the first one. But overall it’s a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours.
Paddington has settled in to life in London, living with the Brown family. He has made friends: after a prologue which shows us Paddington’s adoption by his bear aunt and uncle, the story-proper begins with Paddington leaving the house in the morning, greeting neighbours, hitching a ride on a refuse truck: the journey shows us how the community has welcomed this immigrant bear and how he, in turn, has taken them into his heart. (A pointed lesson for this country in there, I think.) His destination is Mr Gruber’s antique store, where he is looking for the perfect gift for his aunt’s 100th birthday. When he comes across an old pop-up book showing the sights of London, Paddington is sure he has found it.
You can get that much from the trailer. The pop-up book in particular is a marvel of filmmaking: the animation of Aunt Lucy walking among its pages is reminiscent of the old Paddington Bear episodes: the sets in those were mostly black-and-white, while the pop-up book is colour, but it’s a glorious shout out for those of us who loved those five minutes at the end of Children’s Hour. Unfortunately for Paddington, the book is a genuine antique and the 50p coin Mrs Bird found in his ear that morning doesn’t come close to being enough. Undeterred, our ursine hero resolves to get a job, save the money and buy the book.
Cue a hilarious montage of the many jobs Paddington is not very good at, including a turn in a barber’s shop worthy of that other famed accident-prone Brit, Frank Spencer. Nevertheless, Paddington’s store of coins grows and it seems he might just make his goal. One night, he heads to Mr Gruber’s (closed) store to press his nose against the glass and gaze longingly at the book. This is why he is on the scene when a thief breaks in and steals the book. In the first film, Paddington witnessed a thief drop a stolen wallet in Mr Gruber’s shop and pursued him with the intent of returning it, leading to the thief finally being apprehended with Paddington the accidental hero. There is no such misunderstanding this time and Paddington pursues the thief in earnest, determined to return “his” book to Mr Gruber. But this time the chase ends in Paddington being mistaken for the thief, and he is sent to prison.
The rest follows a fairly predictable pattern: Paddington’s friends work to prove his innocence, while Paddington makes friends in jail by introducing the chef to the miracle of marmalade. Hugh Grant makes a wonderful villain as the master of disguise/thief/treasure hunter who believes the book is a treasure map and goes through an impressive array of disguises as he visits the landmarks in the book. It all leads to a final chase aboard a train which beautifully riffs of the old Westerns, and the bittersweet ending (Paddington’s name is cleared, but he still doesn’t have the book) turns sugar-sweet in the final moments. Yes, it’s an over the top “aw” moment, but this is Paddington and I don’t care.
Now, where’s my marmalade sandwich?