Paddington 2 is an anti-Brexit film where the villains have the narrowest minds

The film celebrates London's inclusiveness – but candy-coats its inequality. 

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Paddington 2 is quite the treat. A tad frenetic, perhaps, with slapstick piled onto snazzy, sweeping camera moves and finished off with more slapstick. A climactic train-bound chase sequence seems to last as long as the other scenes put together, while CGI oozes out of every corner like marmalade from one of Paddington’s over-stuffed sandwiches. My eyeballs needed a long soak in My Neighbour Totoro once it was finished.

But it works. The inclusive, plainly pro-immigration stance of the original 2014 film is carried over here and multiplied, with a welcome anti-Brexit message. The most despicable characters tend to be those with no sense of community or open-mindedness. Islands unto themselves. The villain, a washed-up actor named Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant, having the time of his life), is said to hate working with other people; his whole dastardly plot, which involves stealing an antique book which contains clues to find a stash of treasure, is hatched with a view to financing his one-man show.

Lower down the cast list but every bit as insidious, Peter Capaldi returns from the first film as Paddington’s busybody neighbour, who keeps his front door triple-locked and mistrusts strangers and anyone who represents difference. When things get tense, he whips out his fear-o-meter, cranks the arrow to the highest setting and announces: “I’ve raised the neighbourhood panic level to ‘Wild Hysteria’!”

Culturally inclusive the film may be. Economically, though, it’s a world of wish-fulfilment where poverty has been scrubbed from the capital. When Phoenix, a master of disguise, dresses as a homeless man in order to carry out a robbery, it can only make him more conspicuous, since there don’t appear to be any other homeless people in London. It’s less of a problem once Paddington, found guilty of a crime he didn’t commit, gets banged up in the slammer with a bunch of burly but good-hearted brutes. This, too, is a candy-coloured version of a gritty situation (it is the one time the director Paul King seems to lose his own artistic voice and go for the full Wes Anderson look). But as movie representations of prison life go, it’s still more realistic than The Shawshank Redemption.

King has cast the film deftly, down to the tiniest bit-part and walk-on, though I would take issue with Joanna Lumley playing Phoenix’s agent. Her appearance slightly sours the whole celebration-of-London idea. I’m not saying the extravagant celebrity clout which she put behind the money-burning folly of the Garden Bridge (now thankfully dead in, or rather over, the water) should disqualify her from appearing in any movie which pushes a joyful vision of life in the capital, where people don’t try to get their own way just because they’re famous. But… well, I guess that is what I’m saying.

This has also been the week in which Paddington starred in the Marks & Spencer Christmas advert, in which he mistakes a burglar (Mark Benton) for Santa Claus. Believing himself to be helping with the Christmas Eve delivery, he restores to their rightful owners all the presents that have just been stolen. Ninety seconds of this nonsense and I was covered head to toe in goosebumps, scalp prickling, eyes watering and cockles fully warmed. My 17-year-old daughter, whom I had insisted watch it with me, was unimpressed by my reaction. “Dad, what are you?” she asked.

Then I realised that this was almost as bad as the time when the characters from Pixar’s Inside Out were used to flog Sky subscriptions. It hit me that the wholesome, lovable Paddington had been hijacked for the sole purpose of getting the tills ringing at M&S this Christmas. And I cried all over again.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards and is Film Critic in Residence at Falmouth University.