Often sequels attempt to build on some aspect of their predecessor. Whether the producers (or sometimes fans) feel there was an element of a film’s plot still to be resolved, or simply to continue making money off the franchise, subsequent films in a franchise tend to build off one another. That is not always the case, however, and you can see this in Paddington 2 (2017). Paddington (2014) did not set the cinematic world afire by raking in hordes of cash at the box office. It did modestly, at best. It is also a tidy little film that did not need any further explanation. Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) achieved his goal of finding a home, and God bless him for it. The end. Thus there was no clear reason for Paddington 2, but the world is better off for it.
Paddington 2 moves a couple years ahead in his life with the Brown family. Paddington has developed a routine around his neighborhood, and he brings joy to the lives he touches in his daily wanderings. His most frequent stop is Mr. Gruber’s (Jim Broadbent) antique shop where Paddington is shown an old pop-up book of London. Wanting to purchase something for his Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) whom he left behind in “Darkest Peru,” Paddington determines to buy it as a memento of the city his aunt and uncle who raised him always dreamed of visiting. The one problem is that being old and rare, it is a bit expensive for an unemployed bear. After a job or two ended in Paddington’s usual clumsy disaster, a chance meeting at a fair with the neighborhood, down-on-his-luck but still full of himself celebrity, Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), he gets the idea to become a window washer. Despite some initial bumps and bruises, Paddington’s business allows him to save the money he needs for the book. Yet on the eve of acquiring this gift, the antique shop is broken into by Buchanan who steals the book. He does so because he believes it contains a clues to a secret code that will allow him to unlock a treasure and restore his fortunes. Unfortunately, Paddington witnesses the theft and is blamed for the crime. The only people who believe his innocence are the Browns, but they are unable to prevent the bear from going to jail. They remain undeterred, particularly matriarch Mary (Sally Hawkins), who begins to suspect Buchanan is the real culprit. Meanwhile Paddington must adjust to life in prison, which is understandably scary at first. It is his unwavering dedication to politeness and being good to people, not to mention his orange marmalade recipe, that wins over the hardened convicts. Still, he longs to be reunited with the Browns, and when they do not show up one day for a visit (being engrossed in their private quest to prove Paddington’s innocence) he believes they have forgotten him and assents to Knuckle McGinty’s (Brendan Gleeson) escape plan. Paddington hopes they will help him clear his name, but as soon as they slip the jail’s confines they tell him that the intention is instead to flee the country. Undeterred, he finds a phone booth and calls the Browns, thinking he was saying a final goodbye since he is now a fugitive. On the contrary, Mary has cracked the case and they know where Buchanan is headed: the train carrying the fair out of town that contains a circus organ hiding the treasure. Paddington makes it to the station bearing (pun intended) his name and boards the cars just as it is leaving the station. The Browns catch up on another train (a small bit of improbability, but then again this a movie about a talking bear) driven by their steam train enthusiast son, Jonathan (Samuel Joslin). Once even, dad Henry (Hugh Bonneville) and his daughter Judy (Madeleine Harris) manage to board the fair’s train in time to help the overmatched Paddington thwart Buchanan. In the proceeding fracas Paddington gets locked in a car that is separated from the train and ends up at the bottom of a river. He is saved, though, when Knuckles and his accomplices dive in to free him, along with Mary. When he wakes up three days later, not only is he back with the Browns but his name has been cleared and Aunt Lucy has come to visit.
Many of the themes in Paddington 2 are similar to its predecessor, so please read my previous review if you need a refresher. Suffice to say, I feel like we need more films like this one. What I realized while watching the sequel was that Paddington is very much a Christ-like figure. Even more so than the subtle and/or over-the-top Jesus allusions of other films, Paddington is perhaps more in the mold of Our Savior than any of them. There are a few things he says in this film that underscore this point. One of his repeated mantras, almost a prayer, is “If we’re kind and polite the world will be right.” Some Christians make too much of the brief mentions in the Bible where Jesus was somewhat short with the people he dealt with, as if moments of curtness justify a lifetime of being rude to certain individuals. Many ignore a fundamental principle espoused by Jesus, and dogmatically followed by Paddington, that if you look for the good in people you will find it. Recent events seemingly make such an endeavor seem impossible, but Paddington reinforces the benefits of doing so not only by saying how much easier life is when you love your neighbor but by demonstrating it. When he gets to prison and is about to have his first meal, he finds the food not very palatable. The other inmates, as inmates do, test the bear by daring him to say something to the facility’s toughest resident and chef, Knuckles, about the quality of the cooking. They believe this will result in Paddington’s dismemberment, but when Knuckles accidentally tastes the marmalade it prevents murder. From there, through Paddington’s determination to be genuinely affectionate towards all around him, he not only makes a friend of Knuckles but improves the lives of his fellow inmates. That is one of the more prominent examples. Yet all such gestures, big and small, have their affect and it is beautiful to see. And let us not forget that Jesus summed up the whole of Christian theology by saying that you should love others as yourself. What a world this would be if we could all do just that, and have more cinematic iterations of this idea like in Paddington 2.
Forgive me a bit of cynicism, but I doubt they will make another Paddington 2, which I suppose would be Paddington 3. Maybe they are in the process of filming it, though I have not heard anything. Given all the muck and mire we are forced to wade through on a daily basis, it is with a sense of renewed hope that I leave off this film franchise. If you have not seen either of them, and you can watch them in any order, then they get our highest recommendation.