We all know life can be difficult and challenging—sometimes before 8:30 in the morning. Drivers treat the commute like a game of Pole Position. Co-workers spray mean-spirited comments around the office like they’re watering a garden. Social media serves as a hub for negativity to fester among friends both real and virtual. Hectic schedules cause unrelenting stress. Homework is a horror for kids and a never-ending nightmare for adults. And then there’s the news . . .
Though life does not consist solely of de-thorned roses, we can still make the most of whatever situation we find ourselves in. That is one of the main messages of Paddington 2, the latest movie by Studio Canal and director Paul King. Following on the footsteps of the highly successful first film, the second iteration continues the adventures of the charming bear with the red hat and bright blue peacoat. Touching in some areas, laugh-out loud funny in others, it’s an irresistibly charming addition to the series.
Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) has settled down with the Brown family in Windsor Gardens but wants to get Aunt Lucy a present for her 100th birthday. Passing by an antique shop one day, he spots a pop-up book of London that would be perfect. However, the book is quite expensive so he decides to get a job to pay for it. His role as a barber doesn’t quite go as intended, so he reverts to a window washer—a task he’s uniquely made for. Before he can get his paws on the book though, it’s stolen by a burglar. Paddington sees the break-in and attempts to catch the culprit, only to be arrested erroneously by the police and sentenced to twelve years in prison.
Life in jail is quite different for Paddington, but the bear, with his usual hopefulness and positivity taught to him by his Aunt Lucy, attempts to make the most of his situation. However, Paddington learns a lesson anyone who’s ever washed clothes will attest to: a red sock in a bunch of white prison outfits equals a bunch of unhappy prisoners. Maybe he can make it up to everyone by getting Knuckles the cook (Brendan Gleeson) to serve something remotely appetizing . . .
Meanwhile, the Browns realize Paddington is innocent and start an investigation into who stole the pop-up book. They put up flyers, snoop around houses, and scour the community for clues while doing their best to let Paddington know. When they forget to show up one day, Paddington begins to think they’ve moved on without him.
But there is a break in the case when Mrs. Brown discovers the culprit is a neighbor and former actor—Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant). But why does he want the pop-up book? Is there something special about it? Will Paddington serve the entire prison sentence, or will his motto of “If we’re kind and polite, the world will be right” live up to its billing? It’s worth finding out.
As in the first film, the acting is top notch, with Grant enjoyably smarmy yet flamboyant as the former actor turned thief. Mr. and Mrs. Brown (Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins) provide just the right amount of levity in a family where everyone has big ambitions (it’s ironic that Hawkins, recently honored with a Golden Globe nomination for the film The Shape of Water, plays a character whose goal is to swim the English Channel). Of course, Paddington is just as you’d expect—a lovable bear who sometimes makes mistakes but always follows the mantra of his Aunt Lucy: “If you look for the good in people, you’ll find it.” To that end, he’s the hero we need right now.
What do we do when times get tough? Do we run away or are we brave, jumping headlong into the fray? I think about Joshua in the Old Testament as he prepared to lead an entire nation into a new land—one they were promised by God. It must have felt like a daunting task he was incapable of accomplishing—after all, he was a slave while in Egypt. God gave Joshua a healthy shot of courage when he told him to “be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 NLT). He took that advice, just like Paddington did with Aunt Lucy’s words, and moved forward to make things better for others.
What can happen in our world if we just attempt to look for the best in others and simply be nice? Perhaps we should strive to find out. I think Paddington and Aunt Lucy would agree.