This year’s Paddington 2 is so ridonkulously well-reviewed that I had to watch both it and the first installment of the Paddington franchise, also known as the British children’s movies where Ben Whishaw voices a 3 foot 6 digitally animated bear in a red hat. GUESS WHAT, THEY’RE CHARMING. Thought they couldn’t possibly be as charming as all that, but the people are right, they are! These movies are really awfully sweet, and just this side of doable on the kids’ film silliness axis. Whenever they start to lose me with too many slow motion pratfalls of computer generated animals sailing paws-over-teakettle, one of the incredibly winning actors swoops in being so gosh darn delightful that you feel like sunshine is gonna start pouring out of your screen. Sally Hawkins alone could probably stave off your seasonal depression.
That’s what sets these movies a notch or five above much contemporary children’s fare I think, the genuinely clever dialogue performed by actors who aren’t phoning it in, no, this cast brought their own phones, which they’d made themselves (tin cans bedazzled with rickrack and paper flowers and steampunk gears, and love). I mean there’s a reason the the LA Film Critics Association just named Hugh Grant their runner-up for Best Supporting Actor of 2018 for his marvelous work in Paddington frickin 2, and it’s not “for the lols.” I mean it is for the lols, but the lols he’s given us; a Lols Award granted in sincerity.
Hugh Grant—as washed-up cravat-wearing mad stage actor “Phoenix Buchanan”, yes indeedy—is not the only thing that makes Paddington 2 the X2 of its series. As mentioned these movies are not lacking in great performances, or fabulous villains for that matter—the first Paddington boasts a gleefully severe Nicole Kidman as a high-heeled evil taxidermist. But there are a couple things Paddington 2 does a little differently. One, they lean more overtly into their Wes Anderson For Tots sensibility, particularly in the prison section, and it pays off handsomely. Two, they raised the number of speaking roles played by non-white actors from zero to I-eventually-lost-count. In a year marked by cultural watersheds like Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians, I hope we don’t even have to state a case anymore for why this not only matters to audiences, but also intrinsically improves on the classic movie forms, creating something richer for the representation. And especially in a series like the Paddington films, with their clear immigrant narrative and steadfast ethos of acceptance and inclusion, this was the missing piece this franchise needed to become the very best version of itself. As Aunt Lucy says: if you’re kind and polite, the world will be right.