Watch ‘Paddington 2’ to Teach Your Kids About Prison Abolition. Seriously.
Whether intentional or not, the adorable movie is an introduction to a big social issue.
Paddington 2 is one of my favorite movies of all time. I went to see it in theaters a couple of years ago simply because my son wanted to see it. I expected to take a 90-minute nap as I do for a lot of kids’ movies. But Paddington 2 was different. The movie was so damn positive and warm. It’s just a bear and a family and a community that loves him. It’s rare to feel that fulfilled in a movie theater. Parents, watch it with your kids. You’ll all feel better about life.
But there’s an added benefit. If you dig deeper, you can use the movie to teach your kids about one of the most important issues facing society today: the criminal justice system. I know this sounds like a stretch, but hear me out.
Paddington 2’s second act revolves around the titular bear being framed for a burglary. As a result, he ends up in jail. What follows is a story about how prisons don’t actually provide any rehabilitation and how treating people with humanity is transformative and rehabilitating.
Here are three simple things Paddington does when he gets to jail:
- He accidentally put a red sock in the washer with the rest of the prison uniforms and turned them pink. The imprisoned men at first bristle at the color but come around to the brightness of their outfits.
- He complains about the food they’re provided and the fact it doesn’t have any nutrients. So he goes and cooks his famous marmalade sandwiches for the prison occupants.
- After the sandwiches are a success, he asks the other men what they would like to eat and if they know recipes. Soon, they put together a fancy dinner full of meals they like, implementing their service industry skills, organizing and even event planning.
In a matter of movie minutes, four of the imprisoned men who have mostly shed their hard exteriors pull together to try to get Paddington out of jail. The escape is successful and the next time we see the four escaped prisoners, they are helping save Paddington’s life before setting off to contribute to society. (Bonus: the closing credits feature the entire prison population performing a Broadway musical number.)
The surface-level lesson is one that we teach all kids about love forming unlikely friendships and all that. But there’s a more subtle lesson about the nature of prisons that you can use to introduce to your kids to have a more nuanced discussion about criminal justice.
Paddington 2 models what happens in a system where people in jail are given nutritional meals, real job training, and compassion (each night ends with a nighttime reading for every person in jail). Now, of course, this all sounds more like an introduction to prison reform more than one about prison abolition, which it is. But there’s a commentary here on the criminal justice system as a whole and its usefulness as currently constructed — starting with the fact that Paddington was imprisoned for a crime he didn’t even commit. At its heart, the storyline is telling us that prisons, as currently constructed, don’t work. Acknowledging that fact gets the ball rolling for kids to begin to consider why jails exist in the first place and who is occupying these prisons.
The movie is telling us (whether intentional or not) that all of these people in jails are inherently good people, which is something children aren’t often told in their world of cops and robbers, Batmans and Jokers. Humanizing the oft-dehumanized is essential to understanding people’s inherent right to be free.
Besides being one of the most feel-good movies ever made, Paddington 2 is a perfect way to begin the discussions with your kids that far too few of us had in our formative years. Also, if you watch the movie once you’ll watch it 47 times, so you there’ll be plenty of chances to revisit the conversation.
Now if we can get Paddington 3 to imagine a world without police, we’ll really be cooking.