Review: “Paddington 2”

5 out of 5 stars.

If you’re looking to learn what makes a great family film, look no further than “Paddington 2.”  It’s the rare sequel that is every bit as innovative, clever, heartwarming, and fun as its predecessor, a modern yet faithful adaptation of writer Michael Bond’s creation, and a true delight for all ages.

Directed once again by Paul King, “Paddington 2” picks up some time after the events of the first “Paddington” film.  Paddington bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw), has not only won over the Brown family with whom he now resides, but also everyone in the neighborhood—with the exception of Mr. Curry (delightfully played by Peter Capaldi), who has appointed himself as the neighborhood watchman constantly warns his neighbors about the dangers of the bear.  Everyone’s lives have changed for the better thanks to the joy Paddington has brought to them.  With his Aunt Lucy’s (voiced by Imelda Staunton) 100th birthday approaching, Paddington starts working to earn enough money to buy a rare pop-up book of London from his eccentric antique dealer friend, Mr. Gruber (Jim Broadbent).  But just before he is able to purchase it, the book is stolen from Mr. Gruber’s shop.  The blame is placed on Paddington, who is arrested and sent to Portobello Prison, leaving the Brown family to try to solve the mystery of who really stole the book and clear Paddington’s name.

The audience is clued in early on that the film’s villain is Phoenix Buchanan, a once-famous actor who now has to resort to starring in dog food commercials to pay his debts.  Buchanan is delightfully played by Hugh Grant, who strikes a good balance between charismatic, egotistical, and weird as the character uses his acting skills to take on different roles as he eludes his pursuers, first in stealing the book, then in searching for clues to a treasure the book seems to serve as a map to.  He’s the perfect villain for a family film like this one: a caricature who’s fun to laugh at, and not threatening in a deadly way, but just so the stakes remain high.

The fact that the audience already knows that Buchanan is the thief makes it even more fun to watch the characters unravel the mystery.  The whole quirky Brown family is back from the first film, including tough and kooky Mrs. Bird (Julie Walters) and children Judy (Madeleine Harris) and Jonathan (Samuel Joslin).  But it’s Henry (Hugh Bonneville) and Mary (Sally Hawkins) who are the most fun to watch.  Henry is a bit more of a risk-taker after the events of the first film, but is currently experiencing a mid-life crisis after being passed up for a promotion at work in favor of a younger coworker.  Mary, meanwhile, is relentless, stopping at nothing to find the real thief even when Henry thinks she’s going mad.  They have great chemistry, and are a delight to watch together.

Paddington 2

It doesn’t feel like we see as much of the Browns’ in this movie, though, and that is because Paddington spends a decent part of the film in prison, winning over the other inmates.  His positive attitude and affinity for marmalade entirely changes the dismal place, especially after he befriends the prison cook Nuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson), who is so mean and scary the other inmates have never had the courage to tell him how horrible his food is until Paddington came along.  These scenes are just as fun to watch as the main plotline, and, as with even the smallest details revealed about characters at the beginning of the film, it all comes back around to play a role in the climax at the end of the film.

Once again, Ben Whishaw does a brilliant job voicing Paddington, imbuing him with equal parts innocence and determination.  Paddington is, of course, an animated character in this live-action world, but he blends in to his surroundings seamlessly.  His character is designed to be just real enough to be believable, but just cartoonish enough to still be recognized as an anthropomorphic character.  Like the previous film, the whole visual style of the movie is beautiful, colorful, fun, and creative.  Scenes are filmed and brought to life in innovative ways; flashbacks narrated by Paddington bring a new layer of personality to the characters, while a dream sequence in which Paddington and Aunt Lucy journey through a life-size version of the pop-up book of London is simply stunning.

Like the first film, there is some suspension of disbelief involved in the story—as in, everyone in London accepts that Paddington is a bear and that he talks and that’s just a thing that isn’t questioned.  But that’s easy when the story is as charming, hilarious (there is as much if not more humor that adults will appreciate more than kids), and sweet as this one is, with a final scene that is as moving and perfect as a final scene can be.  And with the state of the world as it currently is, torn apart corruption, lies, prejudice, and just downright meanness, it’s wonderful to escape to Paddington’s version of the world for a while.  Paddington’s approach to life comes down to a saying from his Aunt Lucy, one I think we can all take to heart: “If we’re kind and polite, the world will be right.”

Runtime: 104 minutes. Rated PG.

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