The value of kindness and politeness to all with Paddington 2

10 Nov 2017 BY Joe Ursell in Film Features

6 mins
Paddington 2 Image 3
Paddington 2 Image 3

Three years after winning the hearts of audiences around the world, Paddington Bear is back for another big-screen adventure. Happily settled in Windsor Gardens with the Brown family, the Peruvian bear has become a popular member of the local community, known for his kindness and politeness to all. While searching in Mr. Gruber's shop for the perfect present to buy Aunt Lucy for her hundredth birthday, Paddington discovers a unique pop-up book of London and embarks on a series of odd-jobs to buy it. But when the book is stolen, it's up to Paddington and the Browns to unmask the thief.

Paddington Bear first appeared in Michael Bond's book A Bear Called Paddington in 1958. Bond went on to write over twenty books about the marmalade sandwich-loving bear with a fetching blue duffel coat. The most recent book, Paddington's Finest Hour was published in early 2017, shortly before Bond's sad passing at the age of 91. Although Paddington 2 is not a direct adaptation of one of his stories, the gentle heart of his stories can be felt throughout and the filmmakers were very keen to pay tribute to him throughout.

A challenge of making a sequel is balancing and honouring what worked in the first film with a story that feels fresh and original. Fortunately, the creative team behind Paddington have all returned, brimming with ideas and full of confidence. While Paddington 2 is on a (slightly) larger scale to its predecessor, it's not at the expense of the modesty that characterised the original. The filmmakers used Toy Story 2 as an example of how to maintain the sincerity of the first film, whilst moving the story into more ambitious areas.

Little has changed in the Brown household. Judy is running a school newspaper and Jonathan is struggling to balance his love of steam trains with looking cool in front of his friends. Mr. Brown is having something of a midlife crisis, while Paddington himself has become an important member of the community, although the nasty Mr. Curry would still rather see the back of him. 

This time we are introduced to even more residents of Windsor Gardens, including Phoenix Buchanan, a local celebrity and actor, now reduced to starring in dog food commercials. Desperate to return to fame and fortune - and a master-of-disguise, to boot - he is the perfect antagonist for Paddington; preening and self-centred, where Paddington is selfless and kind. Whereas in the first film, the story mostly kept Paddington and Nicole Kidman's villain apart, this time the filmmakers were keen to position Phoenix as a snake in the grass. He encounters Paddington daily, leading to hilarious sequences in which Paddington manages to irritate Phoenix immensely, despite his unwavering good intentions.

Phoenix's scheming eventually leads to Paddington being wrongly sent to prison, where he finds himself in even more trouble when he gets on the wrong side of Knuckles McGinty, the larger-than-life prison cook.

Another crucial character is the city of London itself. Like the first film, the story takes in many famous locations from the capital, including Tower Bridge, St Paul's Cathedral, and of course Paddington Station itself. But while the city can seem frightening and daunting at times, the focus is also very much on community spaces and areas where everybody can find a warm welcome and a home.

Bringing an animated bear into a live action film is difficult. Once actor Ben Whishaw recorded the voice, animation director Pablo Grillo worked closely with the director to capture every expression and gesture, often taking these facial cues from Whishaw himself. Paddington is also required to interact with real-world objects, such as sliding down a banister or cleaning a window - even running on top of a moving train! To help achieve this, the animation team would often record these movements themselves and use them as a reference to ensure that every minute gesture is as realistic as possible.

The film's finale, which takes place on top of not one but two moving steam trains, is one of many references to the golden age of film comedy. Buster Keaton's classic film The General features a legendarily comedic train sequence, and director Paul King spent lots of time studying the films of Charlie Chaplin, identifying with the pleasure in those films of seeing the clown in dealing with a really miserable situation. Another key inspiration was the classic underdog film Mr Smith Goes To Washington, another title in which a decent character falls victim to an injustice.

"If you're kind and polite, the world will be right" is the mantra of the film, and is a fitting summary of its key messages, explaining why Paddington means so much to so many people. Whereas the first film was about acceptance and learning to welcome newcomers, the sequel promotes the values of kindness and compassion, and realising that even small acts of goodness can have a huge impact on a lot of people.

Portrait picture of Joe Ursell

Joe Ursell, Film Curator

Joe has a BA in Film & American Studies from the University of East Anglia and an MA in Contemporary Cinema Cultures from King's College London. He has worked with the BFI London Film Festival and on the production of ITV documentary 56 Up.

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