The Paddington Movies Are A (Very Polite) Takedown Of British Colonialism And Xenophobia

Paddington 2” takes this idea even further, placing the blame not only on British citizens who uphold personal prejudices, but on the entire institution of policing others in general. As opposed to critiquing the inhumane treatment of prisoners (which would be quite incongruous with its PG rating), the film humanizes those behind bars — which happens to include our beloved little bear himself. Framed for stealing a rare antique book from Mr. Gruber (Jim Broadbent), Paddington’s fate is sealed when the judge presiding over his case happens to be the same man he once gave a particularly bad haircut to. Sent to a cold, dank prison and separated from the Browns, Paddington is immediately made aware of the depressing state of his new surroundings. His fellow inmates are miserable, eating terrible food and constantly fearing for their safety.

Of course, Paddington’s eternal pleasantness cuts right through the hostile environment. In no time, the prisoners are being fed a steady stream of pink pastries to match their pink uniforms (a laundry mishap on Paddington’s part that immediately brightens up the place) and are being read nightly bedtime stories by the warden. Clearly, none of these people are “bad” — perhaps like Paddington, they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, or had a prejudiced judge, or perhaps committed a crime out of sheer desperation. There’s no background given on what these men were incarcerated for, which is a refreshing departure from most narratives surrounding incarcerated people. Instead of reducing these individuals to the crimes they committed or their status as “innocent” or “guilty,” we simply see their personhood — solidifying the idea that incarcerated people are just as deserving of the autonomy of personhood and personality that the rest of society is automatically afforded.

Paddington quickly becomes friends with many of these inmates as soon as the prison conditions are made infinitely more livable, but even his own family still casts a shadow of judgment over these connections. When visiting Paddington to discuss the suspected shadowy figure who framed him, the Brown family hands over a few sketches to the bear’s fellow prisoners — an action met with immense distaste by Mr. Brown, who spews hurtful rhetoric freely when he believes he’s shut off the microphone, but has actually just flipped the switch for the light.

“We can’t trust these people! I mean, look at them. Talk about a rogue’s gallery. Hideous. And as for that bearded baboon in the middle, he’s hardly got two brain cells to rub together.”

After he’s done, the “bearded baboon” Knuckles (an amazing Brendan Gleeson) calmly replies: “We can still hear you, Mr. Brown.” Clearly embarrassed that his words have fallen on the ears of those he was so cruelly deriding, it’s evident that Mr. Brown has made a jerk of himself — with the audience fully comprehending that his baseless characterization of these men couldn’t be farther from the truth. For many prisoners, the complexities of their interior lives are reduced to their status as an inmate, meaning that society predicates their worth only on their “guiltiness,” never on their humanity.

The similarities between the first two films are rooted in this idea of surveillance as a tool of colonial power — whether by keeping Paddington behind museum glass or prison bars, he’s separated from society so that his “otherness” doesn’t conflict with the uniformity of British culture. Yet what the film makes clear is that everyone who interacts with Paddington is made the better for it, principally because the kindness he affords everyone spreads kindness in return. By that logic, baselessly loathing someone due to their difference will only spread malice and distrust among a community.

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