In 2014, Paul King co-wrote and directed Paddington, the live-action film about the blue-coated bear from darkest Peru who transformed his London community thanks to a friendly disposition and a general joie de vivre. Four years later, King is back, with a top-notch cast and a new story about Paddington’s impact on the community around him in Paddington 2. At stake is a deeper metaphysical question: can someone so gentle and loving survive in the wilds of human community?
King clearly has a deep love for the little bear, mixing a blend of objective descriptions with idealistic understandings of what Paddington means for society in 1958 and today. “He’s a very unusual hero in this day in age,” he mused. “He’s not a fighter; he’s an eater. The most threatening he gets is a hard stare. He’s very kind and polite and looks for the good in people. He has very old fashioned values. Secretly we’re rooting for him. He goes around making the world a better place.”
While these ideals are mostly agreed upon as solid, they can sometimes be met with eye rolls, apathy, or simple ostracization. With Paddington, there’s something fantastic and awe-inspiring about them, even today in a world that some would call more complex than the days when Michael Bond first wrote the story. It’s the kind of story that attracts the cast of Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Peter Capaldi, Jim Broadbent, and Hugh Grant to star alongside a CGI bear.
While an actress who King says is roughly the same size and shape of Paddington stood in for those scenes to give the cast and the camera crew a sense of the bear, the director says that the film is completely reliant on the cast to make it all feel real. Their love of the stories certainly help, but their performance certainly carries the weight. It’s so effective, King said, remembering how Hugh Grant’s eighty-nine-year-old father turned to him at the premiere and asked if Paddington were real!
Grant is this year’s villain, a switch from the original’s taxidermist, played by Nicole Kidman. While Kidman’s Millicent chased Paddington, wanting to stuff him for a museum, Grant’s down-on-his-luck actor, Phoenix Buchanan, steals a book that Paddington had his eye on. Allowing Paddington to interact with his antagonist differently allowed for funny moments - as well as Paddington’s energy and approach to shine through.
That is thanks to the influence of the bear who raised Paddington: Aunt Lucy.
“Aunt Lucy is everything to Paddington,” said King. “In the sequel, we see how she sort of rescued and adopted him. She’s given him his values, to be very optimistic and to love your neighbor. These values are simple and yet, sometimes they can be hard to do.”
“They’ve put him at the heart of his community. He brings out the goodness in people. He goes out being Paddington. In the second film, we wanted to send him out into the community and a broader world, to see how the values would hold up in a more cynical world, like a Frank Capra movie, say Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.”
Beyond the furry huggability and laugh out-loud moments, this is what King is aiming at, telling those stories that share the vision of the world.
“I think the stories are incredibly important and they test how well their values stand up against the world.I still find them incredibly emotional. Sixty or seventy years later, there’s a sadness at the lack of distance we come. We’re good at tribalizing ourselves and not at loving our neighbor.”
That’s why we still need Paddington 2, in theaters now.