‘Paddington 2’ is Still Wonderful, in Spite of Local Issues
A clunky vocal replacement can’t derail this whimsical, delightful sequel
Paddington 2 has the titular bear (voiced locally by Xian Lim) trying to find the perfect birthday present for his Aunt Lucy. He finds a rare pop-up book depicting London landmarks, and he takes on a bunch of jobs to earn the money to buy it. Unfortunately, before he makes enough money, the book is stolen, and Paddington is wrongly accused of the deed. He is sent off to prison, where he tries to maintain his sense of civility, while on the outside, the Brown family investigates the theft and tries to clear the name of their beloved adopted bear.
The first Paddington film was a bit of a surprise: an exceedingly clever children’s film that wielded whimsy as it spoke of tolerance and kindness in current times. This sequel doesn’t quite have the relevance that the original did, but it doubles down on the whimsy, in the end creating a delightful, thoroughly good-natured experience that prizes human (and ursine) decency above all. And it combines this approach with dazzling filmmaking craft, putting together some genuinely thrilling sequences in the midst of all the charming, genteel behavior of its characters.
But let’s talk about the elephant in the room, first of all. The local version of this movie replaces the voice of Ben Whishaw with Xian Lim’s. This choice might have worked better if the sound mixing was better. Paddington always sounds like he’s in a different room. But technical issues aside, Lim’s vocal performance doesn’t really feel particularly suited to the character. His vague approximation of a British accent gets distracting, the language basically not sounding right in dialogue with the other characters. It doesn’t ruin the experience as a whole, but it’s an issue that should probably be taken into account in the decision to see this movie.
But really, the sheer quality of the project as a whole shines through. There are quite a few truly bracing sequences in this movie. Its neatest trick involves a time lapse that takes place during a long tracking shot, the scenery changing dramatically as the camera moves through the space. But it isn’t purely technique that gives the film its appeal. There is a clear sense of artistic vision, an understanding of what kind of story is being told. The film is really good at capturing the depth of kindness that these characters are capable of, and its best, most affecting sequences build something out if little more than a small change in expression.
The film also happens to feature some of the best British talent around. Returning are Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins, who even with a little less screen time, are able to get across pretty full character arcs. Brendan Gleeson is wonderful as a prison tough who becomes one of Paddington’s staunchest allies. But this movie fully belongs to Hugh Grant, who as the ex-actor Phoenix Buchanan, gets to ham it up in the best ways possible. The film’s funniest scenes invariably involve Grant alone in a room, just talking to himself. It is a broad performance, certainly, but it feels studied and clever in ways that just lend it an extra bit of panache.
Paddington 2 is still pretty great, in spite of the voice issue. Honestly, it isn’t enough of a detriment to negate all the good that the movie delivers, even if it does get distracting at times. But the appeal of its filmmaking still comes through, and the heart of it remains the same. It’s a very simple film in the end. It’s really just about the power of people being nice to each other. In this day and age, in a time when everything can seem so terrible, this movie feels particularly welcome. We can all use a little more kindness in our lives.
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Rogue.ph. Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.