FILM REVIEW: How "Paddington 2" melted my cold, popsicle heart
Although I protested and complained at the prospect of attending a Paddington 2 screening (yeah yeah, woe is me), inwardly I didn't care one way or the other. My protestations were merely a half-assed attempt to stave off a deep boredom at having to watch it and then write a review for an audience of zero because basically who cares. Sure, I knew the first Paddington widely acclaimed. But I figured that acclaim was graded on a curve, as in “wholesome fun for the whole family!”.
So it was surprising that my eyes were leaking like a busted pipe about ten minutes in, when Paddington bear, voiced to slowed-down-for-storytelling-time perfection by Ben Wishaw, imagines eagerly leading his Aunt Lucy by the hand, introducing her to the wonders of London. It's a whimsically rendered sequence brimming with innocence and joy and melancholy longing. I've racked my brains trying to figure out why such a simple, not really all that sad scene provoked such a reaction.
There is no easy answer to that. But what matters is that the filmmakers respect and love and believe in Paddington – his longing for his family, his good manners, his 'hard stare' – the only offensive weapon he possesses but will rarely deploy because he's simply too decent to be true – his quality of bringing out goodwill in mean old people (well, most mean old people, barring a Brexiter stand-in played by Doctor Who's Peter Capaldi). Lest we get carried away with good intentions, the earnestness matches the inventiveness too; there's never, ever the cynical, lazy vibe of “Whatever, this is good enough for kids”. If you picture a Wes Anderson film with the deliberate, hilarious cruelty scrubbed away until it's a wholesome sheen, you're nearly there. It's also a poppy visual confection that's congruent with its broad physical comedy stylings of Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. It's as touching as it is gorgeous as it is funny. When the creators so clearly believe in their work this much, at every level of its execution, you end up believing in it too. It's a magic that's rarely evoked, except for one other time:
I was 9 years old and, having been raised on a steady diet of Spider-Man since infancy, I saw Spider-Man – like, for real Spider-Man – swing across skyscrapers and holler and whoop like a real human being would. 15 years later, still loving Spider-Man despite a bunch of bad movies, I saw Spider-Man: Homecoming. I enjoyed it, but that magical joy 2002 Spider-Man lit in me has been dimmed by disappointment over time. I figured: well that's it, there's the proof that my insides are numbing.
But I was sorely wrong. I knew I was sorely wrong when Paddington, wrongly accused and sentenced to jail, refused to succumb to misery like he ought to, like any of us would, and, with gumption and achingly funny guilelessness, transforms the miserably austere jail into a storybook utopia of creativity and emotional intelligence in one smoothly and amusingly choreographed take. Paddington 2 is peppered with miraculous scenes like that. Its expert craftsmanship is keenly directed toward warming you with its wit, its unfussy kindness. At the centre of it all is a bear who's the real deal. That he's a CGI creation is at once impressive and enough to make your heart hurt.