The U.S. release of Paddington 2 on January 12 arrives with particular poignancy, as Paddington’s creator, Michael Bond, died at age 91 on June 27, 2017—the film’s final day of shooting. The live-action film is a followup to the 2014 adaptation, Paddington, which grossed $76 million domestically. In the first film, Paddington travels to London following a massive earthquake that destroys his home in “darkest Peru.” He is taken in by a kind family who find him at the London train station, after which he’s named. The second film catches up with Paddington, now acclimated to his urban life in Notting Hill with the Browns. The cast of the first film returns, with Hugh Bonneville as Peter Brown, Sally Hawkins as Mary Brown, and Ben Whishaw as Paddington. Joining the cast is a new villain—the washed-up and narcissistic actor Phoenix Buchanan, played by Hugh Grant. Paul King returns to direct. The film was originally distributed by the Weinstein Company, but after Harvey Weinstein’s many accusers came forward, Warner Bros. stepped in as the new distributor.
The first Paddington book, A Bear Called Paddington, was published in 1958 by William Collins and Sons (now HarperCollins). Bond widely shared one of his early inspirations for the Paddington books: his memories of seeing evacuated children passing through Reading station after the Blitz. In 2014, Bond told the Guardian: “They all had a label round their neck with their name and address on and a little case or package containing all their treasured possessions. So Paddington, in a sense, was a refugee, and I do think that there’s no sadder sight than refugees.”
In fact, Paddington’s value as a symbol of amnesty and cross-cultural communication was made clear in 1994. When British and French tunnellers first connected their respective sides of the English Tunnel, they passed through a stuffed Paddington toy. In the aftermath of Brexit and in the storm of anti-immigrant sentiments in the U.S., the refugee bear’s experiences would seem to be especially pertinent. As they did following the release of the first film, recent tongue-in-cheek articles have commented on Paddington’s immigrant status.
Paddington is no stranger to brushes with legal authorities: in Bond’s Paddington Here and Now, police question the bear’s legal status after he reports his shopping cart stolen. In the film, Paddington discovers an antique pop-up book that he wants to buy for his Aunt Lucy’s birthday and he enters the workforce to earn money. The film takes a dramatic turn when Paddington is framed by Phoenix Buchanan for stealing the book and is sent to jail, leaving the Browns to devise a way to clear his name and have him set free.
Though Bond was not able to see the completed film, his daughter, Karen Jankel, spoke about the film following her father’s death: “It’s wonderful… very sadly my father never got to see it. They’ve captured the spirit of Paddington so beautifully. My father was as nervous as me before the first one. We all were. It’s like asking somebody to bring up a child for you. But when he finally saw it, he was delighted,” she said.
While Paddington may never be quite as beloved in the U.S. as he is in the U.K., HarperCollins does have a robust Paddington publishing program in the U.S., including a movie tie-in junior novel, a reader, and a pop-up title based on the book that Paddington finds for Aunt Lucy. Readers will have another chance to meet Paddington for the first time—in Bond’s final Paddington book, Paddington at St. Paul’s, which will release on the anniversary of Bond’s death this year.