There’s a point in the recently released Nicolas Cage vehicle The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent when Cage and his mobster buddy Javi (played by Pedro Pascal) talk about their favorite films of all time. Maybe you’ve already seen the clip making the rounds on social media, but this exchange stood out to me even when I was watching. The third film on Javi’s list turns out to be Paddington 2. Cage is dubious, so they watch it together. Both men are brought to tears, forcing Cage to admit that it is, indeed, “incredible.”
Usually, I’d ignore such a small detail, laugh, and move on, but earlier this year NBC’s Grand Crew produced an entire episode around how Paddington 2 made the male characters shed tears. My interest was piqued. What is it about this sequel to a kids’ movie that has people still talking about it five years later? Is it simply a running pop-culture joke? To this day, it’s managed to maintain a 99% Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes (there’s always that one guy who comes in to ruin the prefect score—in this case it was a critic from Film Authority).
I had to find out if the movie was really that good. So I decided to watch Paddington 2 for the first time.
From the start, I was impressed with the quality of the CGI effects on Paddington. Everything from his facial expressions and the texture of his fur to his shadow is realistic and believable. The best visual effects are the ones you don’t notice, allowing Paddington to become a real character you can genuinely relate to. Kudos to director Paul King for creating some beautiful scenes.
Of course, the film has some exaggerated sequences, but it’s self-aware that these are necessary beats for a film like this. After all, an anthropomorphic talking bear wearing a hat and coat is outlandish from the start. Still, most people with whom Paddington interacts enjoy his company, and although he tends to create messes of situations, he’s still charming. Paddington’s optimism allows people the opportunity to be distracted from the negatives of life and have moments of joy, in same the way a cute kid can affect people in everyday life.
The Brown Family are all entertaining, but the stand-out character for me is Phoenix Buchanan (played by Hugh Grant), a failed actor who serves as the film’s antagonist. When he learns that a pop-up book of London that Paddington wants to buy as a gift for his aunt holds the clues to a hidden fortune, he steals it from a shop and frames the poor unsuspecting bear for the crime. Phoenix’s whimsical ways, arrogance, and ability to portray different personas (complete with elaborate costumes and makeup) is impressive. Yes, he is narcissistic and sleazy, but he’s so well played it makes you feel sorry for him. I understood his motivation. He needed the money to bail him out of a bad financial situation. After all, he was relegated to doing dog-food commercials!
Paddington’s imagination is beautifully brought to life in the film. I’m not ashamed to say I wasn’t too proud to let the eye-sweat drip from my eyes. The moment his adoptive family failed to visit him in prison is legitimately sad, because this is when he begins to accept his lonely fate of being condemned to prison for a crime he didn’t commit, while everyone he loves gradually forgets about him. It’s a sad moment because it’s true to life, and reminiscent of the way prisoners feel after their loved ones’ visits become less frequent.
Paddington’s influence on his fellow inmates is also a bright spot. Inspired by his genuine kindness, and love for marmalade, they embrace growth and change. You start to see the chinks in their defensive armor, especially gang leader and cook Knuckles (Brendan Gleeson). His vulnerable moments, combined with Paddington’s encouragement, is irresistibly adorable. And yet it doesn’t take much to convince a courtroom that he’s a thief who belongs in jail. If even a creature as charming as Paddington can be a victim of misinformation, what hope is there for anyone?
I have to say, however, I wasn’t moved in a way I’d have expected, or at least hoped.
I was hoping for a climactic moment to lead to boo-hooing on my couch. Instead, I was left with a “meh” reaction. I was anticipating the announcement of someone’s death (Paddington or his dear Aunt Lucy) to at least have me choked up. But no, the film just ends happily ever after. So I ask myself — why is this movie worth referencing?
I am still not quite sure. I’m not knocking the filmmakers for the project or other critics who have raved about it. I’m just saying I have seen other animated films like Ralph Breaks the Internet or Sonic the Hedgehog which had me blaming my tears on allergies. I can understand why it has that 99% score on Rotten Tomatoes. People like moments of joy! Paddington 2 provides that and a little bit more. Like a bowl of homemade soup on a cold day, it warms you up and provides you with something good for the soul. Which is great. There’s always a place for homemade soup in the world. But it’s not in the same league as a gourmet meal prepared by a world-class chef.
I’ll give it this: Paddington 2 is an adorable, decent, and wholesome film, especially if you are or ever were a fan of the character. Is it one of the best films of all time? No. I can’t say it’s s a stand-out film or even a real tearjerker, though I’m sure its reputation as such will only keep growing. The myth is often far more compelling than the reality, and that likely will endure long after the film itself has been forgotten.