I’ve been reluctant to watch Paddington, despite hearing good things about it. Lately, I’ve invested most of my energy into romantic comedies and horrors. Often, I feel like children’s movies skirt around a serious topic without giving it platform that it deserves. (Like, for example, the innuendo of race in Zootopia.) What could possibly change my mind about deciding to watch this movie? Why, of course, Hugh Grant, the king of morally ambiguous, snarky male characters and Richard Curtis’ bumbly fellow trope. Hugh Grant stars in Paddington 2, a fact which prompted me to watch both Paddington and Paddington 2 this week. Sally Hawkins, who stars in Guillermo del Toro’s Shape of Water, also appears in both movies.
I watched both movies without high expectations and came out of both of them absolutely charmed. The Paddington franchise, illuminated with a vibrant color palette and oodles of marmalade, features a quaint young cub who must navigate a foreign new land that he’s always dreamt about: London. Like Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, it’s really about displacement and trauma, even though it has so many jokes, slapstick and clever, wedged into it. Paddington must figure out how he belongs in London without the help of his Aunt Lucy, an older bear who adopts him in the jungles of Peru. Gorgeously animated, he is naive—he takes things quite literally (like, for example, picking up a dog when he sees a “Walk Dog on Stairs” sign at the subway) and doesn’t quite understand most of human/Western society’s mores. He happens upon the warm-hearted Browns, who takes him in, despite Henry Brown’s initial reluctance.
Both Paddington movies are children’s movies with predictable plots and cartoonish villains, but in their whimsical and heartwarming ways, they teach important lessons in empathy with most of their major characters. For example, we may ostensibly presume Henry Brown a cold-hearted risk analyst at first, but the movie offers a glimpse into his wild past that’s turned upside down when he has his first child. And yes, we even feel sorry for Hugh Grant’s Phoenix Buchanan, the illustrious actor turned avaricious villain.
The thing about the Paddington movies is that they’re not just quirky nostalgic throwback films with a hollow fixation on beautiful aesthetics. There’s a balance that exists in both of them. It’s a balance between the mundane, mocking cruelties of the everyday and the small, but profound acts of kindness just right around the corner.