This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Director: Paul King
There is something rather peculiar about being an immigrant, and it mostly has to do with the way we are perceived, both by strangers and our families back home. It’s something I only began to realize after I had settled into my life as an F-1 Visa holder in Los Angeles. The truth of the matter is that I’m not obviously an immigrant. I don’t have a discernible accent, nor do I associate with “foreign” communities. But I’m an immigrant nonetheless. An individual whose family is halfway across the world, with nothing but their own imagination serving as an understanding of how I live here. I can travel home all I want, share every story, and they’ll never know the big picture; that’s the life of an immigrant. Everything is a storybook—a glossy, perfect rendition of my life in LA.
What fascinates me about this is how universal this story becomes for people living in foreign countries. Whether you’re an expat working in Hong Kong or a refugee from a war-torn nation, one thing remains the same: your family back home will never understand your new life until they come and pay you a visit. Currently, the public discourse tends to label immigrants as illegals, unwelcome strangers in a land they can’t assimilate in. But it’s films like PADDINGTON 2 that offer the healthiest of counterarguments. An essential children’s film, sure, but what’s more, it has the political warmth and optimism that skeptical conservatives ought to embrace in such a divisive, xenophobic era: a delightful, aesthetically perfect gem of a film. What can I say? 2018 started off with a serious bang!
You’re building a wall to keep out THIS guy?
The story of Paddington bear is a blissful analogy for the life of every unwanted immigrant in post-Brexit England. It’s moments like Paddington’s first job as a barbershop janitor and his self-starter personality that capture the joie de vivre of the countless men and women who accept minimum pay to get that first leg up in life. Paddington’s unending optimism puts the greatest smile on your face. But his desire to purchase a London picture book so that his aunt Lucy can take a peek into the life he’s living abroad will make your eyes well up to the point of bursting. It’s in that exact moment that King captures the bittersweet complexity of being an immigrant: every story that makes it home is colorful and joyous, just like the picture book, but the road to those moments of happiness is exhausting, mired in hours of hard labor.
It’s a statement that PADDINGTON 2 accomplishes through the sheer creativity of its set pieces. King’s delightful direction fuses the acrobatics of a Buster Keaton film with the political angst of Charlie Chaplin’s MODERN TIMES. Nothing here exists as flat entertainment. Instead, it all hints at a greater thesis on the contributions and challenges of immigrants in foreign countries. King’s cuddly bear isn’t simply a toy for goofy shenanigans, but a vital sociopolitical mouthpiece, showcasing just how a little love, trust, and kindness can allow foreigners to brighten up the mornings of natives far and wide. It’s an applause-inducing ride, one that reminds us that divisive rhetoric will get us nowhere. There’s a purity and goodness here that children’s films sorely need, and that adults should take note of too: Hollywood has been on a bender of good vs. evil for so long that we’ve forgotten just how much better life can be if we don’t strive to defeat each other.
Also the finale is the best level of UNCHARTED 2
All of this fits so neatly into my long standing hypothesis that we’ve finally ushered in an era of populist entertainment. PADDINGTON 2, much like STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI and DUNKIRK before it, never mind MAD MAX: FURY ROAD before that, ultimately proves the enduring quality of love and friendship. Yes, PADDINGTON 2 is a film about a bear that—almost—everyone loves, but Paul King’s thesis statement is that we are all Paddington, and we should all strive to be as good as him. The world of PADDINGTON 2 is only as redemptive and just as it is because its key players are all selflessly committed to one another’s well-being. It’s the single trait that separates PADDINGTON 2’s good guys from its not-so-good-guys. And even still, as cruel and selfish as Hugh Grant’s wonderful antagonist may be, even he receives his post-credits redemption, because nobody in the world of PADDINGTON 2 deserves to be punished for life.