Joseph and Paddington
It is unanimous.
Movie review site Rotten Tomatoes aggregated all 176 critic reviews of “Paddington 2” and every single one has been glowing with adulation — making it the best reviewed movie of all time. The children’s story of an immigrant CGI bear living in real-world London has captured the hearts of even the most hardened film critics.
It is fitting that a mean word cannot be said about a movie without a single mean-spirited or cynical moment. “Paddington 2” manages to entertain, enlighten, enchant and inspire without an ounce of negativity. The world of “Paddington 2” is exactly what we wish for our world: a community of decent people with curiosity, mutual respect and so much joy. Visiting this world, even through a children’s film, is so powerful that everyone who sees “Paddington 2” leaves the theater with the same exact thought: How do we make our world into that world?
This question led me to consider the story of the most likely Biblical inspiration for “Paddington 2”: Joseph.
The superficial parallels are striking. Both Paddington and Joseph are dreamers who get into trouble by oversharing their aspirations. Both are outsiders falsely accused of a crime and imprisoned. Both manage to keep their morals and good spirits in prison by being super helpful to other inmates. Both are rescued because of their helpfulness and both experience a yearning to be reunited with their family — despite feeling like foreigners in their own families.
With role models like Paddington emerging from the juggernaut of Hollywood, we can change the world.
There is something deeper in the Joseph story that explains the simple beauty and joy in “Paddington 2.”
How did Joseph see an interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams that no one else saw? He has no superpower or special wisdom other than his ability to see things in a novel way, without the same biases as his Egyptian overlords.
Ancient Egyptians worshipped the sun god and lived by the predictable rhythm of the Nile overflowing into its irrigation canals. It was a world with very firm cycles. Measuring time with the sun gives you the same 24 hours in a day, every day, and 365 days in a year. It’s pretty regular. Joseph comes from a family that lives by the moon and worships a conversational, relationship-based God. The moon seems unpredictable because it grows and shrinks throughout its lunar phase. The lunar month has irregular cycles of 29½ days. The God of Joseph and the Bible is unpredictable and changes plans or ideas in reaction to human intervention.
Pharaoh’s dreams appear to be so contrary to the fixed order of nature. Lean cattle swallowing bigger, fatter cattle and small ears of grain swallowing larger ears of grain make no sense in a world of strict order. Pharaoh’s dream interpreters were completely stumped. But in Joseph’s moon-based culture, anything is possible. Hope springs eternal, cynicism and despair are the enemy, and there is always hope for a better tomorrow. He saw years of plenty followed by overwhelming years of famine in Pharaoh’s troubling dream — and he was right. But Joseph also saw reasons for optimism and believed in Egyptians’ ability to roll up their sleeves, work hard and endure.
Paddington embodies this idea. He unabashedly believes in the power of unconditional kindness and the strength in optimism. When confronted by life’s struggles, Paddington “keeps calm and carries on” with British aplomb and a contagious sincerity. Everyone who comes into contact with Paddington is better for the experience because cynicism is poison and Paddington is the antidote.
The most compelling message of “Paddington 2” is that the world thrives when we follow Paddington’s golden rule: If we live with hope and kindness, reject cynicism and negativity, we can change people. Thankfully, the world is watching “Paddington 2” and loving it. Society is responding to Paddington’s modest proposal with a resounding and reassuring, “Yes, more please.”
Indeed, with role models like Paddington emerging from the juggernaut of Hollywood, we can change the world. As Paddington fondly quotes from his Aunt Lucy throughout the film: “If we’re kind and polite, the world will be right.” Amen.
Eli Fink is a rabbi, writer and managing supervisor at the Jewish Journal.