Every so often a family-friendly film comes along that perfectly embodies what the genre so often lacks. Presenting exhibit A: Paddington 2 – the delightful follow-up to the 2014 debut of the well mannered and marmalade-loving bear.
Following a brief flashback to Darkest Peru, the film wastes no time picking up in London where we last left Paddington (Ben Whishaw). Now, indeed settled in with the Brown family (headed by Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins), Paddington has become a beloved member of the quaint Windsor Gardens community. To all except the mean-spirited Mr Curry (Peter Capaldi) that is.
With his Aunt Lucy’s (Imelda Staunton) 100th birthday approaching, Paddington visits Mr. Gruber’s (Jim Broadbent) antique shop in search of the perfect gift. There he spots a pop-up book featuring 12 London landmarks and, knowing how Aunt Lucy always dreamed of coming to London, has Mr. Gruber put it aside until he can save enough money to buy it. Aunt Lucy now lives in the Home for Retired Bears in Lima, and Paddington knows in his heart that this book is how he can show gratitude for all she has done.
Paddington’s eyes light up as he opens the book to find the skillfully crafted London Bridge pop-up. It’s the first clue that Paddington 2 is something special. As he turns each page, his imagination thrusts Aunt Lucy and himself inside each one-dimensional landmark before him. It’s some beautifully constructed imagery from the film’s effects team with an Inception-like feel. Cast your mind to the iconic ‘city bending’ scene, and you’ll get the idea.
Paddington intends to purchase the book but there’s a catch – he’s unemployed. He sets out to get a job in the only way this well-intentioned yet accident-prone bear knows how. The premise is a delightful nod to Paddington At Work, the 7th book in the series, released in 1966. Paul King returns to the director’s chair and delivers a series of slapstick and comical scenes – starting with Paddington’s first day at the local barbershop. Let’s just say it’d be best never to let this bear anywhere near an electric clipper. After a slippery start, he finds his niche as a window cleaner.
Things aren’t so simple for Paddington though as there is another who has their eye on the book. Cue Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant) – an acclaimed classical actor who has fallen on hard times due, mainly, to his refusal to work with others. And herein lies the film’s second note-worthy strength. Hugh Grant takes the villain and resident ‘bad-guy’ baton from Nicole Kidman and races to the finish line with gusto. He’s incredibly funny as the charismatic yet slightly deranged actor – spending time in his attic talking to himself (and his costumes) about how a one-man-show will return him to his former glory.
When Paddington unwittingly stumbles upon a thief stealing the book from Mr Gruber’s he takes chase. What follows is an absurd and entertaining sequence that ultimately results in the thief getting away. Paddington, having been spotted at the scene, is accused of the crime and sent to jail.
If you think that a kind-hearted and softly spoken bear won’t fair well in a jail full of hardened criminals, then think again. Paddington wins over the grumpy chef Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson) with his Aunt Lucy’s marmalade recipe. Gleeson is a welcomed addition to the already established cast as the cranky convict with a reluctantly soft centre. With help from a few inmates who have unexpected cooking talents of their own, Paddington turns the jail lunch hall into an extravagant high tea that even the guards can enjoy. An utterly ridiculous outcome, but the film is all the better for it.
With Paddington in jail, it’s up to the Browns to unmask the thief and clear Paddington’s name. But will Paddington sit back and wait it out or take matters into his own hands? You’ll have to watch to find out.
It’s wonderful how well the CG-bear and live-action work in tandem in this film. You may find yourself thinking how silly a lot of the scenes are, but once you remember you’re watching a talking bear in a hat and raincoat, it’s all relative. Ben Whishaw yet again brings the fuzzy bear to life with his perfect pitch. Can you imagine if it had been Colin Firth? Well, it came close to fruition as Firth was initially signed on to voice the beloved character back in 2014. Could he have embodied the same level of innocence and purity that Paddington deserves? We’ll never know.
The film will likely be bittersweet for adult fans after the passing of Paddington’s creator and father, Michael Bond, earlier this year. But, like the first movie, the sequel successfully honours the books. Underlying themes of kindness, family, and hope are laced throughout, giving it real heart. And heart is something every family film needs. You’ll be hard-pressed not to hear the ‘so cute’ and ‘so sweet’ comments from junior audiences in the cinema. Do yourself a favour and take your kids to see Paddington 2. You’ll enjoy the witty ride.
Plans for a third film in the series were announced in June 2016, several months before this film started filming.