The most delightful film of the decade has made a place for itself amongst the collection of timeless family classics.
It’s not a sure thing for a family movie with a CGI animal lead to work so well. Thinking of all the ways it could have gone differently brings about some cringing, but Paddington eliminated any skepticism or doubt in its first few seconds. As if that wasn’t enough, the new sequel did the same thing while adding something even more unexpectedly special to the world.
After the ridiculous year the world just had, we needed a lovely film like Paddington 2 to kick off 2018. The sequel recently achieved the honor of being the best-reviewed film of all time on Rotten Tomatoes, beating previous champ Toy Story 2. And it’s not too difficult to see why it has received so much acclaim. This film is truly deserving of all its adoration and success.
At the beginning, we are reacquainted with Paddington, who catches us up on the lives of the Browns and helps out his neighbors with everyday tasks such as providing them with breakfast. He has become a most valuable being in everyone’s lives, except for Peter Capaldi’s character, who has a thing against bears.
As the story continues, we embark on a journey with Paddington to find a gift for his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday. On this journey, which goes awry, we rediscover true friendship and what it means to love and be loved by those who are not necessarily blood relatives, which is a feeling comforting to adults and children alike.
The film is an absolute joy. There’s a special charm to it, a subtle humor that can’t be missed but is not thrown in your face every few minutes, as family movies so often do. The story is tasteful and elegant. Quiet, yet also slapstick at times, like when Paddington gets a job at a barbershop and ends up shaving part of a client’s head.
But it’s a gentle sort of comedy that is gorgeously directed. There are moments that are laugh-out-loud funny, moments that feel genuinely sentimental, and moments that make you stop and think, such as when Paddington continuously shares Aunt Lucy’s pieces of wisdom. They relay such hope in humanity that it makes you want to feel the same.
Aside from it being a most delightful film, however, its level of success is something interesting to note. First of all, it’s a sequel. And sequels usually give send off a cynical vibe. If the first film is great, many assume that the next cannot top it, or that a sequel is just a way to make more money.
But family movies have a particularly rich history of spawning meaningful, worthwhile sequels. Often, their follow-ups are either on-par or even better than the original. It’s no coincidence that the previous Rotten Tomatoes champ, Toy Story 2, is also a sequel.
What is it about these stories that make them as compelling as their successful predecessors?
The best family movie sequels also include Toy Story 3, Shrek 2, and Finding Dory. Each of these did better at the box office than their originals, which is not unusual or surprising. Much of those totals can be attributed to the fact that fans of the first movie will want to go back to see the second, and word of mouth goes a long way in getting new audiences into the theater.
That said, critical reception for these sequels is also practically equated with the originals. In some cases, their Rotten Tomatoes scores are slightly higher. Paddington received a 98%, while Paddington 2 is at 100%. The Toy Story films have a similar situation in that the first two have scores of 100%, while the third is close behind with 99%.
That is not much of a difference, but it’s still notable that these franchises were able to hold onto such success, making sequels that were able to live up to their originals and more. And sometimes sequels do much better critically than their predecessors, as is the case of the Madagascar series, the scores of which have consistently risen with each new installment, and the Despicable Me series, which received a higher score for its second film than its first.
Sure, Rotten Tomatoes scores do not paint the entire picture, but they do help one get a good idea of a general consensus for something beyond box office numbers. Moreover, these high scores are most likely due to the fact that these sequels have something new and meaningful to say, rather than just repeating or overdoing the original. They’re different but at the same time don’t make us feel like we’re in new territory.
It’s because they stick to familiar territory that they feel so comfortable and enjoyable. Most of the time they add to an already beloved story and show us their main characters post-revelation. The original films teach their main characters about themselves, and the second films show how they handle that newfound insight. The title character of Shrek discovers that he is more than just an angry ogre, and in Shrek 2 he must put this change of heart to work when meeting Fiona’s parents. By adopting three girls, Despicable Me‘s Gru finds a meaningful life outside of crime, and in Despicable Me 2, he must relearn how to live outside that sphere.
Simplicity is key to these stories feeling relatable and remarkable at the same time. They are able to say so much with so little. A movie about a bear who wants to get a present for his aunt is able to unpack lessons about friendship, family, and acceptance of others all in one story.
Also noteworthy is the fact that the two highest-reviewed films are family movies. That’s not at all meant to be a knock on family movies, which are a great and important part of cinema. However, the fact that the genre specifically has the power to bring about a universal agreement and bring everyone together, if only for an hour or two, is significant.
When done well, sequels in general, family movie or not, are fun because they allow us to revisit a universe that we loved in the first place. Maybe it’s the familiarity of Paddington 2 that has produced such a positive consensus, or its beautiful simplicity, but one thing is for certain: this is so much more than just a sequel. Paddington 2 is its own special story that has the power to invoke the warmest of feelings on the both the darkest and brightest of days.