Between the Lines is a monthly column discussing everything around the craft of screenwriting: from in-depth breakdowns of screenplays to interviews with screenwriters.
Home Alone, Die Hard, It’s A Wonderful Life. All classic Christmas films, but for this year’s festive Between the Lines column I was inspired by Emily Maskell’s list of Unconventional Christmas films to take a look at a script that isn’t necessarily a Christmas story. In the article, Charlotte Little talks about Paddington, the delightful 2014 film starring the titular Peruvian bear with a love for marmalade, and how “Although not your typical Christmas film, it shares the same principles: togetherness, love, and kindness.” The same could be said for the sequel. Paddington 2 graced us with more wholesome antics, delightful themes on kindness and some great anti-Brexit and prison system subtext.
What adds to the charming innocence of the sequel is how vivid the imaginations of the characters are. Writers Paul King and Simon Farnaby use a mix of sound design, animated illustrations and flashbacks to bring the thoughts of characters to life – which not only create fun sequences but gives the characters more depth and clearly defines their motivations.
The story re-introduces the colourful cast of characters – including the Brown family who have taken Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) into their home. The spotlight moves between each family member, but it is Mrs Brown (Sally Hawkins) who gets the most imaginative introduction:
It’s one thing having Paddington tell us what Mrs Brown desires but to see it through her eyes sells the character motivation: that she wants to go on an adventure. We see how important that is to Mrs Brown as the illustrations come to life in her mind. It is the only solution for her at the moment, to illustrate her desires, and as fantastically wonderful as there are it isn’t quite the same as embarking on an adventure herself. As well as providing some delightful visuals for the audience, it sets up Mrs Brown’s character arc for the film in a straight-forward and engaging manner.
Further on in the opening act we finally get to Paddington’s motivations and desires: finding a gift for Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday. Whilst browsing in an old antique shop, Paddington comes across an old pop-up book:
It’s a very similar situation to Mrs Brown’s sequence, where bringing the pop-up book to life shows the audience the importance of this item. It tells us what object Paddington desires, but this sequence goes further and establishes how special the relationship between Paddington and Aunt Lucy is. The sequence doesn’t just show us the charming crafty version of London but places Paddington and Aunt Lucy within that world. Paddington dreams of Aunt Lucy finally achieving her lifelong dream of visiting London and the best thing he can do is bring London to her through this book.
Unfortunately for Paddington the book is stolen by villainous Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), a narcissistic and egotistical actor who has nefarious plans with the book in his possession:
Again, the writers use more fantastical elements to enhance what the characters already reveal to us. Phoenix explicitly states that he wants to become famous again by performing on the West End, but some simple sound design tells us why. Hearing thunderous applause is what Phoenix desires: love and approval from the people. Playing the sound in his head puts him closer to that dream, but the applause also suggests that Phoenix assumes his one-man performance would garner such a reaction. It is a delightfully comic scene that further cements just how egotistical and dastardly Phoenix, all through one piece of sound.
There are more similar examples peppered throughout the script: Mr Brown longing to relive his days as a suave, youthful man through flashbacks, Paddington’s prison escape partly shown inside of a doll house. King and Farnarby’s more fantastical approach to certain sequences doesn’t just make for entertaining visuals but cleverly ties into different character arcs and behaviours. The writers know that every aspect of a scene should serve the narrative, and they pull it off with grace and wit in Paddington 2. Although not a Christmas movie, Paddington 2 has enough magic and wholesome storytelling to make it feel like one. Especially after such a turbulent year for most of us, we all deserve a film that is as sweet as marmalade.
The Paddington 2 screenplay can be found at: https://www.scriptslug.com/assets/uploads/scripts/paddington-2-2018.pdf