It’s official: Paddington 2 – a film about a friendly, polite and thoughtful CGI bear – is now the best-reviewed film of all time. But, before you roll your eyes in disgust, here’s why everyone (no matter how old they are) needs to see this feel-good children’s movie…
At a cursory glance, 2018 looks bleak: President Trump has been busily bragging about the size of his nuclear button, while the Justice Secretary has confirmed there will be no judicial review into the decision to release rapist John Worboys. Elsewhere, Emmanuel Macron has warned Brits that we’re burning our bridges with Europe (yes, Brexit – again), a critically-acclaimed actress was paid less than 1% of her male co-star’s salary, and new data has revealed that man-made global warming has overtaken the influence of natural trends on climate.
And yet, in spite of all this, there is an overriding message of hope for the future: the ongoing #MeToo movement, for example, has allowed us to speak openly about sexual expectations and consent, while the Time’s Up initiative has vowed to help less privileged women protect themselves from sexual misconduct and the fallout that inevitably comes from reporting it. Theresa May recently promoted 11 women and doubled the number of ethnic minorities in her government, in a bid to ensure it “looks more like the country it serves”. Stylist is raising the profiles of brilliant women past and present – and empowering future generations to follow their lead – with our Visible Women campaign. L’Oreal has teamed up with Muslim beauty influencer Amena Khan to encourage conversations around personal identity and societal expectations when it comes to beauty. The British government has appointed its first ever minister for loneliness.
The list goes on and on: everywhere you look, people are doing their best to promote love, kindness and inclusivity. So it should come as little surprise to learn that Paddington 2 – a film which is based almost entirely on those core principles – is now the best-reviewed film of all time.
And I, for one, couldn’t be happier to hear it.
I went to see Paddington 2 with my former editor (and one of my closest friends) on a cold and overwhelmingly soggy day, somewhere in the dead space between Christmas and New Year.
Admittedly, this was not our first choice of activity: we had originally planned to go for a wintry walk through Epping Forest and meander our way to a cosy pub nearby. As such, I’d gone to bed dreaming of muddy wellies and foaming pints of craft beer – but, when I woke up to icy rain and an iron-grey sky, I was forced to admit that we needed to change our plans for something more… well, more indoorsy.
After an incredibly long WhatsApp conversation (you know the kind: two very polite people just keep saying ‘I don’t mind what we do, really, whatever you want’ until the end of time), we somehow got to talking about a certain CGI bear – and all the rave reviews he’d been getting from cinemagoers.
“My brother went to see it,” my friend solemnly informed me, “and he cried for two hours straight”.
Immediately, I was intrigued. Before either of us really knew what was happening, we were settling into the comfy sofa seats of a near-empty London cinema and giggling to ourselves about how silly we were being. But then the film started – and we didn’t speak, didn’t rustle our popcorn, didn’t even so much as glance at one another until long after the credits rolled. By which point, I hasten to add, we were sobbing so hard we could barely see anyway.
If you read the official synopsis, Paddington 2 doesn’t sound like much. The titular bear (so sweetly voiced by Ben Whishaw) “now happily settled with the Brown family and a popular member of the local community, picks up a series of odd jobs to buy the perfect present for his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday, only for the gift to be stolen”.
So far, so basic – so what gives? Why are critics and audience members (myself included) so in love with this film?
Let’s break it down…
It’s ridiculously beautiful
Paddington 2 channels the precise symmetry, eye-catching backdrops, and obscure colour palettes of Wes Anderson – but somehow manages to push that stylisation to dazzling new levels of aesthetic delirium. Everything is picturesque, everything is incredibly dream-like, and everything feels as far removed from the real world as possible, despite being set in overwhelmingly familiar locations.
It boasts a truly brilliant cast
The main cast are all back and, if possible, better than ever. Whishaw’s Paddington is impossibly charming, Hugh Bonneville’s pleasantly exasperated Mr. Brown is having a very familiar midlife crisis, Sally Hawkins’s warm Mrs. Brown is the eccentric heroine we’ve long been craving and Peter Capaldi’s xenophobic Mr Curry is every bit as likely to raise your hackles as ever. This time, though, we have a new villain in the form of Hugh Grant’s egomaniacal Phoenix Buchanan – a hammy local actor who is every bit as hilarious as he is diabolical. Win, win.
It’s the perfect love letter to London
One day Paddington, while visiting a gift shop in search of a present for his beloved aunt, stumbles upon a book filled with gorgeous pop-up illustrations of London landmarks. In a gloriously animated sequence, Paddington finds himself happily lost amid the book’s three-dimensional pages, and we see that it’s the perfect gift for someone who always wanted to visit the city but never got the chance - just like his Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton). Perhaps more importantly, though, it forces us to take a long, hard look at our capital through the eyes of an outsider – and reminds us to appreciate it fully.
It reminds us what the word ‘family’ truly means
A flashback at the beginning of the film sees a young Aunt Lucy risking her life to save a tiny, orphaned cub from a raging river, before welcoming the little bear (yes, it’s Paddington) into her home. For years, she raises him on a diet of adventure and marmalade sandwiches – and, no matter how far apart they may be (she lives in the Home for Retired Bears in deepest, darkest Peru, he with the Browns in their Windsor Gardens house), their love for one another never fades. Hers is the voice Paddington hears in his head when times are rough, hers is the birthday that encourages him to work day and night to afford a present, and hers is the face he most wishes to see when he is at his lowest.
Of course, Aunt Lucy isn’t the only member of Paddington’s chosen family: the love and support he receives from the Browns is both encouraging and endearing – and, beyond his household, Paddington is also a buoyant and helpful presence connected to the caring residents of his community. So, when the chips are down, it makes sense that every last one of them drops what they’re doing to help their furry friend.
All in all, it’s a firm reminder that the word ‘family’ doesn’t have anything to do with genes or legalities: instead, it refers to people in your life who want you in theirs. The ones who accept you for who you truly are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile – and, most importantly of all, those who love you, no matter what.
It’s genuinely a gripping story
Paddington gets wrongfully accused of theft and winds up in a dank Victorian prison, filled with cutthroats, thugs and bullies! The Browns are forced to embark on a Da Vinci Code-esque treasure hunt all over London in a bid to clear his name! A mysterious nun wreaks havoc in St Paul’s Cathedral! Hidden treasure! High-speed car, train and aircraft chases! MORE!
Honestly, it’s exciting. The kind of exciting that squeezes all the breath out of you because it’s so… well, because it’s so blooming unexpected. Thought you were getting a sedate story about a bear in a floppy hat? Think again, kiddo.
It challenges us to be kind
It’s all too easy, in these troubled times, to shut yourself off from the world. To turn off the news when those ‘bad’ stories come on. To ignore the homeless person sleeping outside your local tube station. To assume the worst of everyone, every single time.
Paddington, though, is relentless in his positivity: he may be incarcerated with vagabonds of the worst kind, but his commitment to decency, thoughtfulness and impeccable manners soon melts even those hardest of hearts. As Aunt Lucy always says: “If we’re kind and polite, the world will be right”.
In contrast, we have the vile Mr Curry, who has always hated Paddington with every fibre of his being. Why? Because Paddington is, in his eyes, an undesirable outsider – and a damaging influence on the local community.
“We don’t want him here,” he screams into a megaphone, seemingly speaking for everyone in the tight-knit London community.
Mr. Brown, though, soon informs him that this absolutely is not the case.
“Of course you don’t,” he snaps. “You never have! As soon as you set eyes on that bear you made up your mind about him. Well Paddington’s not like that. He looks for the good in all of us and somehow, he finds it! It’s why he makes friends wherever he goes. And it’s why Windsor Gardens is a happier place whenever he’s around.”
It’s a highly resonant (albeit not-so-subtle) reminder that, at its heart, Paddington Bear is a story about a refugee trying to make a home for himself in a strange country – and how vital his contribution to society can be, if only everyone could look past his immigrant status and make him feel welcome.
Essentially, though, this marmalade-encrusted figure shows us that, if we treat everyone with respect and compassion, the world is destined to be a better place.
It will warm the cockles of your cold, cold heart
This film, with all of its lyrical sweetness, is the perfect antidote to the nightmarish reality we’re currently living in. If you don’t shed a single tear – and your heart doesn’t swell two sizes bigger when you’re watching it – you probably aren’t a real human at all.
In an ideal world, yes, you should see it with a beloved member of your own chosen ‘family’ – but you could just as easily go with that one person you secretly suspect might be a robot. Just to… well, just to check that isn’t actually the case.
Take tissues, and good luck.
Images: Warner Bros, iStock