Starring: Ben Whishaw (Voice), Sally Hawkins, Hugh Grant
Director: Paul King
Running Time: 103 mins
Synopsis: Now a fully fledged member of the Brown household Paddington Bear spends his days amongst the community bringing joy wherever he goes, and a dollop of marmalade sandwiches of course. When he stumbles upon an antique book that would be a perfect 100th birthday gift for his Aunt Lucy, Paddington faces a challenger in Phoenix Buchanan (Grant). A washed up vain actor who harbours the book for unexpected reasons. A battle of wits commences.
There is an unwritten rule in Hollywood that should a sequel arise to a wildly popular film, it needs to be bigger, dive deeper into a larger mythology and frequently become that most cliche of things, darker. Praise be then that this rule doesn’t seem to have reached the ear of those at Heyday Films (producer of the Harry Potter films), who have formulated a sequel to 2014’s joyful Paddington film that, whilst certainly bigger in some respects, focuses on the most simplest of tales. How can the lovably compassionate bear Paddington purchase a wonderfully hand crafted book for his dear Aunt Lucy for her 100th birthday?! The fact that returning director (and co-writer alongside Simon Farnaby) Paul King uses this as a jumping off point for a story of dastardly villains, outlandish chase scenes and heartfelt compassion is a testament to just how talented he is.
We open with an almost origin story for the little bear, as his Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) and Uncle Pastuzo (Michael Gambon) rescue him from a churning river deep in the Peruvian rainforest. It establishes in a few short moments the bond between cub and Auntie, one that permeates throughout the rest of the film. Flash to present day London (similar to the first the film cheerfully celebrates the dynamism of our Capital city) and Paddington is thoroughly at home with the Brown family. A warm easiness exists between them as well as the larger community. One lovely tracking shot sees Paddington glide between his neighbours exchanging friendly loving banter whilst the camera floats around them. A sign that King has certainly upped his confidence game, with numerous shots throughout the film displaying a rich detailed eye. Once again Ben Whishaw imbues Paddington’s voice with a searching fascination and childlike wonder, as well as nimble comic timing.
Entering the local antique shop he stumbles upon a one-of-a-kind pop-up book detailing London in all its glory (see what I mean about the London love), a book that would be perfect for his dear Aunt whom always dreamt of seeing the great city. Alas it is a little out of his price range, so he decides to hunt for a job. Akin to the first film, Paddington 2 is blessed with some terrifically choreographed comedy set-pieces, with Paddington working inside a local barber shop being a huge highlight. Paced with steady timing and a dollop of slapstick mayhem, it is an utter joy. One of many many moments that’ll leave you grinning ear to ear. This is what both films have touched upon so brilliantly, their gentleness but witty playfulness eliciting the sort of joys few films ever grasp, that of the all ages adoration. Where too many family films mistake family for under 10s, the Paddington movies are determined that everybody should have a good time.
Slight this story may seem, but soon after his desire to get the book arises then the villain of the piece reveals himself and what a swirling, dramatic fool he is. Phoenix Buchanan is a once renowned theatre actor, melodramatic, egotistical and a true luvvie. Now he has been forced to star in dog food commercials and open cheesy carnivals. However inside the book lies a key to a secret treasure and the chance to use this capital to put on a one man show restoring his credibility. Yep you heard right, the big villain simply wants to put on a show! The fact he still comes across as villainous, sympathetic and humorous is down to Hugh Grant. Absolutely having a blast as the titular thespian. Loquacious, hammy and energetic, it is the best I’ve ever seen him. Leaping from costume to costume with supreme dexterity. Scenes of him talking to many facets of himself as characters he once played is both charmingly funny and achingly sad.
Grant is not the only one who excels here. The film is rife with brilliant comedy/character actors. People such as Ben Miller, Jessica Hynes, Peter Capaldi and Jim Broadbent. Actors able to invest deep veins of personality and heart with the briefest of screentime. Although one newcomer rises above the rest. After a madcap chase to stop Phoenix stealing the book, Paddington is thrown in jail, where he faces the watchful angry attentions of Brendan Gleeson’s Knuckles McGinty. A seemingly brutal inmate, who just so happens to be the resident chef, but one who warms to the naive charms of our titular bear. Not to mention a run in with some delicious marmalade sandwiches. Gleeson is a joy to watch here, bringing his performance as close to outlandish hamminess but lashing in doses of affection to give his character surprising emotion. The rapport he builds with Paddington feels genuine and heartfelt.
In fact the entire prison subplot is a bevy of delights. Glimpses of a harsh nightmarish Shawshank situation giving way to scenes of washing machine bumbles (red sock meet black and white prison overalls), cooking montages and in a very unexpected move musical numbers. There is a surrealness to proceedings here that is closer to Wes Anderson than any kids film ought to be. In fact his influence is felt throughout. A handmade quality touches numerous aspects of the film. A pop-up book come to life, whimsical animated segments and a world that feels one step to the left of our own all feel like they’d belong in an Anderson picture. However King strikes a better balance between whimsy and broadness, something that has always alluded Anderson. There is also a timeless nature surrounding this tale, the lack of mobile phones or technology in any way separates the film from any existing time frame.
The only real failing, and it’s less of a failing more of a point of note, is the lack of things to do for the Brown family. Sally Hawkins gets the best of the material, her tender mother turning detective when Paddington is jailed. Hawkins has always been one of the most versatile captivating performers (just wait until you see her in 2018’s The Shape of Water), her impish nature, waif like appearance and soft tones masking a shrewd mind not to mention the brunt of the emotional material. Mr Brown, a stiff-upper lipped commanding Hugh Bonneville, gets a thin story about a mid-life crisis that whilst fitfully funny goes pretty much nowhere. Same goes for their two kids, used merely as background filler than fully fledged individuals. Julie Walters is at her usual volatile maternal best as their live in maid, yet also feels strangely distant as opposed to the first. Still it is a minor point when they all add up to such a delicious treat.
Paddington 2 is just pure joy and dare I say it a total bear hug of a film. There is an undercurrent of adult humour that surprises, but it is never at the expense of anyone. It does not have a bad bone in its body, telling a tale about compassion, acceptance and love without the need to caption it. Set-pieces are the only area in which this feels most like a sequel, one final act train chase is audaciously large scale, but in all other ways this is an unusual sequel, one that never tries to top before, rather to further cement how embracing the first film was of all of us, no matter our differences. Dare I say it but I found myself tearing up at the end, not for any notions of sadness, but one of sheer happiness. All it takes is a little kindness, a dash of patience and a hearty dose of marmalade to make the world a better place. What better message could we need right now?!
Verdict: Paddington 2 is a marvellous delight of whimsy, gentle comedy, heartfelt messages and creative invention. It wraps you in a warm cosy blanket of pure joy. Loved it!