Paddington 2 Bears Kindness in the Age of Fear-mongering

Pop Culture

Paddington 2 Bears Kindness in the Age of Fear-mongering

Illustration: Palak Bansal

It’s only the first couple of weeks of 2018, and we are already at the brink of nuclear war spearheaded by two of the world’s greatest arseholes who announced their intention on Twitter. I don’t know which part of that statement to mourn first. But I do know that I have had a shot of decency and kindness in the adventures of a CGI Peruvian bear.

In Paul King’s Paddington 2, one of the rare instances of a sequel holding up even better than its charming predecessor, we meet our favourite ursine immigrant again. The film opens with Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw), now well settled with the Brown family, being on the lookout for the perfect gift for Aunt Lucy’s birthday. On a visit to Mr Gruber’s antique shop, Paddington comes across a unique London pop-up book that he is convinced would make his aunt, who has always wanted to travel to London,  deliriously happy. Except there’s a slight catch: Being the last edition, the book is an expensive affair. Not one to give up, Paddington decides to get a job in order to save up the money for the book.

Just as he is nearing his goal, Paddington witnesses the book being stolen by an egomaniacal yesteryear actor Phoenix Buchanan (a deliciously funny Hugh Grant) and then being wrongly implicated for the crime and getting locked up in jail. The story of Paddington’s life in prison and how he nabs the real criminal — through a beautifully choreographed train-sequence that includes some yoga — forms the rest of the plot. This is precisely when the sequel’s politically charged existence takes the limelight.

Paddington took a clear pro-immigrant stance, staying true to its source material. Writer Michael Bond claimed that his Paddington books were inspired by the “plight of refugees and the return of WWII evacuees to the big cities”. And it is uncanny how, more than half a century later as the world battles the greatest humanitarian crisis ever and there is resistance to immigrants from “shit-hole countries”, the books remain just as relevant.

It’s left to young Paddington to deliver the importance of kindness and act as a reminder of the need to see the good in all people.

The sequel shoulders the even more difficult burden of being anti-Brexit and champions the joys of multiculturalism. In the first few minutes of the film, we see the amiable bear, a veritable outsider, interacting with residents of all races and nationalities living in the corner of Windsor Gardens. From being friends with a French woman who gives him a ride and to whom Paddington gifts a breakfast sandwich, to becoming acquainted with a Polish antique shop owner, the universe of Paddington 2 is accepting, possibly a wishful fancy in a divisive post-Brexit reality.

The film’s anti-Brexit tone takes the shape of its villains and breaks it down for its mixed audience. An ageing out-of-work actor is forced to act in dog food commercials to make a living and is desperate to make a comeback in a one-man show riding on the riches of the pop-up book. As his agent informs us, he’s also the kind of actor, who would rather do things “alone” and refuses to act with other performers, much like Britain’s view of being in the European Union. On the other hand, there’s neighbourhood warden Mr Curry who mistrusts Paddington’s “outsiderness” and raises the neighbourhood fear-o-meter to “hysteria” when it appears that the residents would rather stand up for diversity. Mr Curry, your average UKIP supporter. These two narrow-minded villains represent the worst of the pro-Brexit population; people with no sense of either community or history.

It’s then left to young Paddington to deliver the importance of kindness and act as a reminder of the need to see the good in all people. In doing that, Paddington 2 becomes one of the most pertinent films in our prevailing climate of fear-mongering and othering. It’s not only a film that could do the children some good, but also the adults they come to watch it with.