Commentary Commentary is a long-running column in which we sit down and listen to a filmmaker talk over their movie. In this instance, Rob Hunter listens to the DVD commentary track for Paddington 2, featuring co-writer and director Paul King.
One of last year’s best films — and its most delightful — is Paul King’s sequel to Paul King’s Paddington, Paddington 2. Could that sentence have been more confusing? Probably not, but it’s difficult to care about such trivialities when you’ve recently experienced the absolute joy that is this little talking bear’s second big-screen adventure.
The film hits Blu-ray/DVD on April 24th, but I cheated and listened to the commentary track early. Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for…
Paddington 2 (2017)
Commentator: Paul King (director/co-writer)
1. The Peruvian opening was actually the final shot they completed. It originally featured Aunt Lucy looking over young Paddington in his crib, “but it didn’t have the sort of drama and scale that we wanted.”
2. Sequels tend to be bigger and louder, and “I like the idea that our big upgrade is not like a new batsuit or something but it’s electric toothbrushes that he shoves straight into his ears.”
3. Henry Brown (Hugh Bonneville) is meant to be out of shape and tubby, but Bonneville “was surprisingly limber and not quite as ridiculous as we wanted him to look, but he managed to pull it off in the acting.”
4. The pop-up sequence that shows Paddington giving his aunt a tour of the book’s pop-up London took well over a year to complete from conception through execution. They actually built a paper book to physically see how the pages and pop-ups would work.
5. Paddington is all CG. “It’s not motion-captured because nobody looks like a bear, nobody can even quite act like Paddington.”
6. The roller coaster visible in the fair background at 14:09 is actually the Coney Island coaster that they just comped in.
7. Phoenix Buchanan “is a very vain, narcissistic, washed-up old ham,” and they immediately thought of Hugh Grant for the role. They wrote him an awkward letter describing the character and asking if he’d be interested.
8. The line “I do hope if you could see me you’d be pleased” is a direct quote from creator Michael Bond’s books. It was also used on the back cover of Bond’s funeral program.
9. Wolfie is a combination of real dog and CG creation by Framestore.
10. King felt awkward having to ask Grant to do the dog food commercial. It was initially just referenced, but they added it as a re-shoot (with time previously scheduled in for just such a possibility) after feeling its absence during the edit process. “Hugh was incredibly game putting on the dog suit.”
11. He previously worked with Richard Ayoade on Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace back in 2004.
12. “May my entrails be plucked forth and wound about my neck should I deceive, I do” is one of Grant’s many improv additions. The line as written was “Sincerely I do.”
13. The prison was the biggest set they built and is modeled on Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, Ireland. The real one is currently a museum.
14. Charlie Chaplin is an acknowledged reference for the character of Paddington, so King knew early on he wanted a scene with the little bear in a striped prison outfit. They didn’t want to risk making it feel too drab, though, so the idea of the red sock came naturally in the second draft. “What Paddington’s doing is he’s bringing in color, he’s bringing in life,” so it felt right to start that theme so boldly.
15. It was Brendan Gleeson‘s idea to have the Nuckel’s tattoo require crossing his hands.
16. The gag where Knuckles McGinty (Gleeson) spits on his hand to secure a deal and then Paddington spits on the same hand was stolen from Bunny and the Bull (2009). It’s okay, though, as that’s one of King’s films which he guarantees no one has seen.
17. One of his stylistic inspirations in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s brilliant Amelie (2001). “He’s a great director and brilliant at adding all these little flavors that tell you about characters and break you out of the contemporary narrative without spoiling the tone of the film.”
18. Paddington’s “hard stare” was originally used in the first film before being cut.
19. Co-writer Simon Farnaby cameos as Barry the security guard. Previous credits include Barry the security guard in the first Paddington film and Blue Leader in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
20. Grant provided all of the photos of his younger self that are framed and on display throughout Phoenix’s home. King isn’t sure they came out of storage or off of Grant’s own walls.
21. “One of the most dispiriting things” King had to do during production was explain to the two child actors how a phone booth works.
22. They were reminded of the fact that Superman II (1980) features a prison escape via hot air balloon, but “we watched it and decided we were different enough that we could forgive ourselves.”
23. They couldn’t afford to rebuild the Lost & Found bin from the first film, and eagle-eyed viewers may notice its absence beneath the train station clock.
24. He points out that the film features Sally Hawkins‘ second underwater encounter with a magical creature of 2017.
25. The end credits sequence featuring Phoenix headlining a musical number in prison was originally going to be a scene from Hamlet instead, but Farnaby pushed for a song he had performed back at university. They asked Stephen Sondheim if they could perform a very campy rendition of his song from Follies, and he happily said yes.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“It’s one of the most ridiculous out-of-focus jokes in film history.”
“We wanted to take Paddington out of his comfort zone.”
“There’s an inherent unnaturalism to having a talking animal.”
“I don’t think a sort of ‘Ken Loach London’ would work with a talking animal walking down the street.”
“I don’t think Barry’s ever gonna realize that he might have a bit of a track record with attractive older men called Hugh wearing dresses.”
“You go from ‘bear wants to buy book’ to ‘bear is in huge train crash going down landscape and needs saving.'”
“What we wanted to do with the scene is really make people give up hope.”
Buy Paddington 2 on Blu-ray from Amazon.
If you’ve seen Paddington 2 then you know it’s legitimately the sweetest goddamn movie since probably the first Paddington. King’s commentary shows that he adores the character to no end, and he offers both affection and insight into the film’s themes and production. It’s a very pleasant listen.
Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.