MovieMonday: Paddington 2

In a season when serious films are vying for audiences and Academy Awards, this family movie is quietly racking up some pretty impressive ticket sales.  It is a nice alternative.

The story here involves a small animatronic bear who acts like a human and wears a floppy red hat.  He lives in Windsor Court, London, with the Brown family and is surrounded by lovely neighbors, except for the grouchy, anti-bear neighborhood watch captain.

Paddington lives by two rules, both of which he learned from his Aunt Lucy:

1.  So long as you are kind and polite, the world will be all right.

2.  There is no problem that cannot be solved by orange marmalade, and particularly
by a marmalade sandwich on crustless bread.

Paddington’s goal is to get a birthday gift for his Aunt Lucy, who is still in the old country.  He locates the perfect present — a one-of-a-kind pop-up book of famous London sites — in a local antique shop.

(Aunt Lucy, we learn, has dreamed of visiting London, and Paddington imagines the two of them into the pages of the book, a nice piece of filmcraft early in the movie.)

While Paddington is earning money to pay for the book — occasioning a series of amusing  vignettes — a narcissistic actor named Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant) comes onto the scene.  Buchanan’s career has hit a low point, and he is reduced to doing dog food commercials on the telly.  When he learns of the pop-up book, the dastard breaks into the antique shop and steals the volume as part of his grand plan to mount a sure-to-succeed one-man show.

The book becomes the MacGuffin (like the letters of transit in “Casablanca” or the briefcase in “Pulp Fiction”) that drives the film.

Along the way, poor Paddington is sent to prison, where at first he annoys and then charms his fellow inmates who then join forces to help him achieve his goal.

Meanwhile, Mary and Henry Brown (Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville) and their children and housekeeper are getting the goods on bad-guy Buchanan.  As the action builds, there is of course a scene in London Paddington Station.

The early part of the story is stocked with numerous planted bits that yield payoffs as the adventure is resolved and tied up in a happy bow.  This can be seen as really good plotting or just a little too neat.  Just saying.

Still, “Paddington 2” is sincere, funny and fun to watch. It has no sly pop references and none of the heaviosity that infects the cinema of the moment. If you are fortunate enough to have children over the age of four in your life, round them up and go see it.

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