On a gray and rainy Liverpool afternoon, Paddington 2’s pleasant pastel palette offered a bright spot that left my son and I smiling. Charming and winsome, the movie also envisions what a life of one saved by grace could look like.
In a prologue that takes place before the events of both this sequel and the first Paddington, Aunt Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton) and Uncle Pastuzo (Michael Gambon) sit on a bridge above a waterfall eating marmalade sandwiches. From there, Aunt Lucy spies a bear cub careening towards certain death and quickly acts to rescue him. Safe on the bridge, Paddington (Ben Whishaw) eats Uncle Pastuzo’s marmalade sandwich and is adopted into their family. Years later—in the main events of Paddington 2, well after Paddington has immigrated to England—Paddington wants to buy an antique pop-up book of London for Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday. This purchase kicks off a series of madcap adventures, which eventually land Paddington in prison.
The life of grace that Paddington will embrace is shown in contrast with that of Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant, in a wild performance). Buchanan is a self-obsessed, former star of the West End who now does dog food commercials. He aims to reclaim his former glory by starring in a one-man show, and is willing to engage in all sorts of villainy to make that happen. In one scene, we see Buchanan alone in his attic surrounded by mannequins displaying his old costumes. Isolated by his glory-seeking, Buchanan becomes each of these old characters as the camera tilts to a Dutch angle and he dialogues with himself, laying out his dastardly schemes.
Paddington’s story, though, is one of community: namely, adoption and family. Aunt Lucy’s initial kindness in saving his life and adopting him informs the whole film. In an early scene, Paddington encounters the other members of Windsor Gardens, where he lives with his adopted British family, the Browns. With each encounter Paddington offers a small act of service. He quizzes the garbage collector on his routes and reminds a neighbor to get his house keys. Paddington lives to serve others and leaves an indelible mark on Windsor Gardens. Later, when Paddington is in prison, the garbage collector gets lost and the neighbor is locked out of his home.
Paddington 2 envisions what a life of one saved by grace could look like.
It is a spirit of adoption which leads Paddington to live such a life of service, one founded on a proverb Aunt Lucy taught him: “If we’re kind and polite the world will be right.” Because he’s been so loved by Aunt Lucy, the Browns, and the neighbors of Windsor Gardens, Paddington is even able to love the others he meets in prison, albeit after great difficulty.
On his first day in prison, Paddington accidentally dyes all the prison uniforms pink, earning the ire of the other inmates. One of them tells Paddington to voice any complaints about food to the chef, a gruesome fellow named Knuckles (Brendan Gleeson). And so he does. For the second time in the film Paddington finds himself teetering towards certain death as Knuckles hoists him by the scruff into the air. Paddington sputters out an Aunt Lucy proverb about being kind, which Knuckles ignores. He is only spared when Knuckles tastes one of Paddington’s beloved marmalade sandwiches, which the bear has shoved into his mouth. After Knuckles tastes and sees, he’s able to hear Aunt Lucy's proverbs and be instructed in making her marmalade sandwiches. In the following scenes, the prison is transformed into “Aunt Lucy’s Tea Room,” while a calypso song by Tobago and d’Lime called “Love Thy Neighbour” plays.
This transformative love all stems from the prologue where Aunt Lucy rescues and adopts Paddington. The Browns, Windsor Gardens, and the prison are not changed because Paddington is an exceptional bear who follows the proverbs of his Aunt Lucy, but because he has been loved.
Just as Aunt Lucy first loved Paddington and adopted him, so has God first loved us and adopted us into his family. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins,” writes John in his first letter. “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” Not unlike Paddington Bear.