Synopsis – Paddington, now happily settled with the Brown family and a popular member of the local community, picks up a series of odd jobs to buy the perfect present for his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday, only for the gift to be stolen.
My Take – As someone who has never read author Michael Bond‘s stories revolving around the delightful talking bear, I was hugely surprised at just how good the 2014 live adaption was. Mainly, as it is rare to come across a children’s film that’s not peppered with adult jokes, or so banal that it would put parents to sleep, however the British-made blockbuster managed to hit at all right spots to make it accessible and enjoyable to audience of all ages, all the while retaining its innocence. Yet, despite the delight, I was tentatively cautious when a sequel was green-lighted, as there was the concern as to whether it would fall victim to the ongoing sequel-titis. Thankfully, this Paul King directed film is absolutely terrific on all levels, as it turns out this is one of those rare sequels that is actually equal in quality to its predecessor and at times even comes close to being better. The film maintains all of its predecessor’s heart, fun and charm, along with everything that made the 2014 film so good, all the while building on its appeal. For such a hit-and-miss year filled with big-budget blockbusters & wasted potentials, this family film comes as a much needed refreshment.
Taking place right after the events of the first film, the story follows Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw), a sweet natured talking bear, who has settled in London’s Windsor Gardens as a member of the Brown Family, along with Henry (Hugh Bonneville), Mary (Sally Hawkins), Judy (Madeleine Harris), Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) and Mrs. Bird (Julie Walters), all the while also becoming a strong pillar of his community. With the 100th birthday of his beloved Aunt Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton) approaching, he decides to get her something special: a one-of-a-kind pop-up book, found only in the antique shop of Mr. Gruber (Jim Broadbent). The book is expensive, so Paddington tries to save money, doing various jobs, including a hairdresser, and finally finds his niche as a window-cleaner. However, unknown to him, egotistical actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), who also shares a connection with the particular book, steals and frames Paddington in the process, and without any evidence to clear his name is wrongfully convicted and detained. Agreed, this is all very silly, but delivered with such verve and such skill that it is nothing other than utterly charming. It is helped by another terrific script from director Paul King and that is packed with sight gags and brief character moments that seem throwaway, but all come into play later on in the film. From Mr. Brown’s midlife crisis, to Mrs. Brown’s swimming challenge, to Phoenix Buchanan’s conversations with costumed dummies signifying his greatest roles, every thread is neatly tied up at the end. Proceeding with full knowledge of what works (and what doesn’t), the story takes the lovable bear on an adventure that involves prison, police chases and a hatful of marmalade sandwiches. Much like the 90s animated films; who had both intelligence and innocence wrapped up in a lot of feel-good moments. There are plenty of belly laughs, too, with a script that peppers the dialogue with quick wit and funny misunderstandings. It’s irresistible fun, primarily because our lead is so adorable. Scripting is also spot on! The comedic moments are incredibly funny, the best of it hilarious, with rapid-fire wit, endearing quirkiness, clever gags that don’t feel like pale retreads of before and perfectly pitched misunderstandings and physical comedy. Underneath all the humor and the darker and more suspenseful mystery/action-oriented elements of the story is a big heart and strong emotional core, with some lovely inspiring messaging and values that are very much current and some touching parts. It’s also incredibly intelligent, not many films this year have treated its audience with the amount of respect that this film has, and has such an endearing innocence. Just like in the original film, this one was also truly a family film. Almost the same formula was used in here where Paddington, being a naive, friendly kind bear caught in trouble due to the bad things done by the villain, and had to be rescued by the Browns. There was definitely a lot of laugh and love around in this film. So get ready for some funny moments and of course some touching emotional moments.
Like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or Home Alone, the film delights in MacGyvering, traps, extended scenes of note-perfect physical comedy, and the fundamentally optimistic belief that a spirited kid (or bear) can stand up to tyranny. There are wonderful little jokes hidden amid the slapstick: a perfectly delivered take on the word “baguette”, and every line that leaves a delightfully camp Hugh Grant’s mouth. This sequel, while slightly weaker in some areas, but stronger in others, can sit proudly alongside the original. It is also, fantastically, not an exact re-tread of the original, but instead tells a different story with the same characters and just as well. It also cleverly, and carefully, tells the story as a child may imagine it – from the bringing to life of a pop-up picture book, to the innocent vision of how a prison works – it is an entrancing, beguiling and absurdly colorful view of the world, untainted by adult cynicism. Equally as impressive are the film’s visuals, which are ambitious and well executed. Here, director Paul King also unveils some wonderfully creative moments; an interactive sequence involving the pop-up book utilizing some of London’s most famous landmarks, a hilarious slap-stick Mr Bean-esque barber scene, a beautifully lush tropical jungle sprouting from a single tear and concluding with an exciting train-top chase. Animated flourishes, such as the pop-up book exploding into life, lends the film a vivacious element of surprise, while the excellence of the CGI also means Paddington is firmly grounded in this cartoonish, larger-than-life version of London. The entire prison section is wonderfully realized, too, with its accidentally-pink uniforms, brilliantly orchestrated canteen scenes and cross-section view of the cells during Paddington’s escape, seeming to consciously echo Wes Anderson’s stylized cinematic universe. At its heart though is Paddington himself. A CGI character so well realized that he utterly blends into the film, at no point do you think that’s a special effect. Helped by a winning voice work from Ben Whishaw and peerless, flawless animation, the character of Paddington is brought to vivid, wonderful life. There is no denying about how Ben Whishaw voices Paddington with just the right tone of understated naivety, making the character despite all his faults so instantly likable. Performances across the board are great. Hugh Bonneville balances comedy and drama with ease, Sally Hawkins is compassionate and Julie Walters is a hoot. Jim Broadbent is always a welcome presence and the younger actors are appealing. Peter Capaldi is still hilarious, while, Brendan Gleeson is also excellent as an old lag and prison cook who loses his angry nature when he succumbs to Paddington’s charms and talents in the kitchen. Gleeson also has free reign to exaggerate his character, a grizzly convict by the name of Knuckles McGinty, to superb effect. The excellent cast is also enhanced by a superb turn from Hugh Grant, who hasn’t been as good as he is here in a long time. In fact it is quite clear to the viewer that Grant is thoroughly enjoying himself by playing against type and sending himself up as a faded egotistical actor. Here, Grant plays a plethora of characters and it’s a welcome reminder of just how good an actor he is. The twinkle in his eyes, lacking from some of his films over the years, that infectious grin and his positively charming accent are cranked up to 11 and he lights up the screen whenever he appears. Whether he’s a not so noble knight or a surprisingly attractive nun, Grant is having a ball as his pantomime performance hits all the right notes. On the whole, ‘Paddington 2’ is an absolute delight and refreshing wonderful family film full of charm and love.
Directed – Paul King
Rated – PG
Run Time – 103 minutes