Of the hundreds of movies I see every year, I love plenty. I’m awe-stricken by several. I’m totally and permanently bowled over by one or two. But it’s only the occasional miracle that’ll rip me straight from my body and the trials of whatever late afternoon with which it is contemporaneously plagued and drop me face first into, say—just for example—a barbershop in London, where one might find a well-meaning bear using a handful of marmalade to reattach the scattered follicles of a customer he’s just accidentally embaldened.
At seven or eight, I was launched into a lifetime of devotion to the cinematic majesty I’d just discovered in a diluted VHS copy of Close Encounters of the Third Kind viewed in the living room of my family’s Queens duplex. Twenty-odd years down the line, I’ve mined from that devotion a dogmatic regard for the big screen experience and the spiritual efficacy of a 35mm film print; I’ve pursued it through dozens more screenings every year; I’ve embedded myself ever deeper to evade the jowls of a reality with thinning patience for the kind of wonder committed to screen in the final 20 minutes of Steven Spielberg’s 1977 masterpiece.
But everything I’ve become makes true spectacle on movie night all the more elusive. It's perhaps impossible to reconvene the magic I felt when Richard Dreyfuss boarded the mothership. But if Paddington Brown would have me walk away with anything from his latest adventure, it’d be that the good, the fine, and the whole are all still in there, tucked away, and worth digging up. And dug up they were. All it took was a dobbet of orange preserves slathered on a grouchy man’s dome.
In 2014, I had the pleasure of meeting an unexpected gem in Paddington, a delightfully chipper and righteously witty film adaptation of Michael Bond’s Paddington Bear children’s books and television series. Owing to the sheer stupefaction of how much fun I—not to mention the herd of giggling critics in my company—was having, I maintained footing in my own head all the while, noting how stunned I was to be enjoying the film so much. This time around, I was prepared to avoid the surprise. But even with expectations as high as they were, Paddington 2 still managed to supply something I didn’t foresee: a trip out of this world.
I was right there with our fuzzy hero, emancipated from my anxious frame and the daily news that created it, as he coated his dozing customer’s scalp in citrus jam. I remained by his side as he played matchmaker around his London cul-de-sac, rode a scraggly stray dog across town in hot pursuit of a stolen pop-up book, and turned a state penitentiary filled with grisled criminals into a carnival of goodwill and better meals. For a swift 103 minutes, I was along for the ride with Paddington, and with Paddington, I was free.
What’s especially impressive about this feat is how timely Paddington 2 is. Timeless all the while—comedic influences range from Charlie Chaplin to Abbott and Costello to Rocky and Bullwinkle to Monty Python to plenty from today’s treasure trove of British hilarity—but unmistakably reactive to the cultural mores infesting England and America here and now. Paddington’s overarching messages of kindness and compassion may ring like bipartisan truths, but the film pulls no punches in asserting that certain ideological movements, represented here by a bigoted Peter Capaldi, aren’t living up to the code.
In the hilarious company of Hugh Grant's cartoon supervillain—a master of disguise on a demented treasure hunt—elements like a Brexit-banner-wielding Capaldi are what make Paddington 2 reverberate well beyond the form of an hour-and-40-minute vacation. Paddington 2 gives us a world decidedly better than our own, that's for sure, but not one so unrecognizable as to suggest that our own might not make it there with a little work, hope, and love.
After all, the most transportive cinematic experiences aren't simply ones that take you someplace new. It wasn't only the curiosity of a planet unlike our own that made the ending of Close Encounters of the Third Kind such a dazzling conceit. It was what I saw of myself, my life, my world in those final moments, and what new possibilities now seemed open to me, that allowed this movie to change my life so many years back.
I don't know exactly what I saw in Paddington 2, or why it struck me with such wonder when the little bear slapped a glob of vermilion jam on the glistening noggin of an ill-tempered patron. All I know is that it took me somewhere. It was somewhere a bit like our world, and all the same, a bit unlike any. Somewhere I really needed to go.
Rating: 5 marmalade-filled burritos
Images: Warner Bros.
M. Arbeiter is the East Coast Editor for Nerdist. Find them on Twitter @micarbeiter.