Paddington 2 (2017)

Small bear. Big trouble.

With 2014’s Paddington earning the title of the highest grossing non-Hollywood family film of all time, the movie taking home north of $268 million dollars at the worldwide box office, a sequel was inevitably green lit. With that said, I’m delighted to report that the marmalade-loving bear’s second live-action adventure is every bit as enchanting and imaginative as his cinematic debut, returning writer-director Paul King, of The Mighty Boosh (2003-07) fame, injecting the narrative with warm messages about the importance of kindness and compassion while touching on still-relevant themes from the first film, ideas of tolerance and acceptance.

‘… quite paws-ibly the best thing I’ve seen all day.’

Opening with a sweet prologue set in Darkest Peru, showing us just how Paddington’s aunt, Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton), and uncle, Pastuzo (voiced by Michael Gambon), came to adopt the good-natured bear — this sequence also detailing the origin of Paddington’s iconic red hat — this follow-on finds the eponymous migrant (lovingly voiced by Ben Whishaw) going about his daily business, Paddington, having happily settled with the Brown family in London (living in their attic), now an integral part of the small fancy-pants village of Windsor Gardens, our hero’s new residency.

Not a lot of time has passed since the events of the former film, though a lot has certainly changed. Free-spirited matriarch Mary Brown (Sally Hawkins) is training to swim the English Channel, whilst her fuddy-duddy hubby, poor Mr. Brown (Hugh Bonneville), is in the midst of a midlife crisis, Henry (who’s dyeing his hair and has since taken up yoga) having been recently overlooked for a big promotion at work. Their daughter Judy (Madeleine Harris), who’s just split up with boyfriend Tony, is focusing all of her attention on running the school newspaper, while their teenage son Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) is struggling to balance his passion for steam trains with his ‘cool’ new image, the young’un reinventing himself as J-Dog to impress his peers at school.

The crowd could bear-ly contain their excitement.

And then there’s Paddington, our fuzzy protagonist embarking on a series of odd jobs around the local neighborhood to earn some extra cash, the duffle coat-wearing bear trying his hand at hair-dressing and window cleaning — with varying degrees of success. You see, Paddington has joined the work force in the hope of surprising his Aunt Lucy with a one-of-a-kind pop-up book of London for her 100th birthday, seeing as his surrogate mother had always dreamt of visiting the Old Smoke but had never been fortunate enough to do so, the anthropomorphic fur-ball eager to save up enough dough to purchase the book from Mr. Gruber’s antique dealership, in turn bringing London to Lucy.

Problem is, local celebrity Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant) — a washed up West End star who now appears in tacky dog food commercials and performs at the local fair — has his eyes set on the exact same tome, Buchanan wanting to nab the supposed ‘lost text’ in order to track down the hidden fortune of Madame Kozlova, the great-grandmother of a Russian circus owner whose famed traveling carnival frequently rolls into town, the wittily wicked showman desperate to get his paws on the treasure and use it to ‘rise from the ashes’ by funding his dream project, a vanity-driven one-man extravaganza titled ‘An Evening of Monologue and Song with Phoenix Buchanan’ — sounds gawd-dang awful, right!? Alas, when the pop-up book gets stolen and Paddington is wrongly pinned as the thief (sentenced to ten years in prison), the Brown’s are forced to employ all of their skills and talents to catch the real culprit and clear Paddington’s name, the well-mannered mammal framed and imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.

‘What’d you say was in here again, gummy bears?’

Based on the internationally adored children’s storybooks written by English author Michael Bond (who passed away at age 91 earlier this year), Paddington 2 is a captivating continuation in the ongoing escapades of the good-willed bear, an affable traveler who’s trying desperately hard to fit in as a Londoner, his infallible optimism enriching the lives of all he encounters.

In this second chapter, co-writer King (who also directs) and scribe Simon Farnaby have pit our hero against his ultimate adversary: Phoenix Buchanan, a man whose overweening arrogance and sheer self-centeredness grate directly against Paddington’s sound, unerring values — the bear living by the mantra, ‘If you’re kind and polite, everything will come right.’ And boy, oh boy, Hugh Grant, Love Actually (2003), totally hits it right out of Hyde Park, his cravat-wearing antagonist by far one of the film’s more juicy ingredients, the scene-stealing thespian, mocking himself with merciless glee, delivering outrageous lines (often dialoguing with himself) whilst clad in an assortment of weird and wacky costumes; we see him dressed in a habit, sneaking around St. Paul’s Cathedral disguised as a nun, and hiding out at Tower Bridge masquerading as an armored knight. Needless to say, as a villain, this master of deception, whose dastardly scheming is so delectably over-the-top, is a lot more memorable than Nicole Kidman’s ice-cold Millicent.

‘I’d never panda to an audience!’

This notion of the ‘power of positivity’ also extends into Paddington’s jail life, the Peruvian bear’s unflinching generosity and virtue brightening up the lives of his hard-bitten prison chums. Initially butting heads with incarcerated chef Knuckles McGinty, wonderfully played by Brendan Gleeson, The Smurfs 2 (2013) — the Irish actor allowing glints of goodness to shine through the character’s tougher veneer — Paddington’s marmalady magnetism and can-do cheerfulness quickly softens the hardened cook (who rules the barred territory with an iron-fist), allowing him to let down his guard, the rest of the cellmates (eventually) following suit. It’s here that viewers are treated to some of the film’s more inspired moments, the scenes in which the gloomy detention center canteen transforms into a confectionery-decked tearoom (complete with candy-colored outfits for all the jailbirds) rival even the most stylistic visuals of auteur filmmaker Wes Anderson.

With this in mind, Paddington 2 dazzles with its steady stream of vivid, eye-catching imagery, the film playing out like a storybook that’s springing to life right before one’s very eyes, cinematographer Erik Wilson and production designer Gary Williamson — both of whom worked on 2014’s Paddington — wowing the audience with each and every striking new set piece; the cherry on top is a beautifully realized pop-up book fantasy that sees Paddington and his aunt explore a collection of celebrated London landmarks in a stunning life-size cardboard cutout world — show stopping stuff! And if that’s not enough, moviemaker King totally ups the whimsy by staging a number of quirky and creative blunders, the flick loaded with Rube-Goldberg-type slapstick and tons of silly physical sight gags.

Things are about to get hairy.

When it comes to performances, they’re excellent all around, with Whishaw’s balmy, gentle vocals (as the CG animated Paddington) grounding the picture’s overall tone, while newbies Grant and Gleeson plainly steal the show. On newcomers, Australia’s Noah Taylor, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), does a decent job as inmate Phibs whereas stand-up comedian Tom Davis has a couple of funny moments as T-Bone, a no-nonsense prisoner whom Paddington initially rubs the wrong way.

As one would expect, the returning cast members seamlessly sink back into their respective roles. The Brown family — whose strengths and genius wind up saving the day — still feel like an actual family, the actors retaining the chemistry they so effortlessly garnered in the prior picture, chiefly Bonneville and Hawkins, the husband and wife duo constantly bickering like a real-world aged married couple. It’s also nice to see familiar faces reprise smaller parts; Dame Julie Walters, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), is just as sagacious as the Brown’s eccentric housekeeper Mrs. Bird, Walters providing a little more levity this time around, while Jim Broadbent’s presence (once again) adds gravity to proceedings, the 68-year-old Oscar winner portraying white-haired shop owner Mr. Gruber. Then there’s Peter Capaldi, best known as the twelfth Doctor from BBC’s Doctor Who (2008-17), whose sneering disdain towards the district hairball make his character, Mr. Curry, a fun little thorn in Paddington’s side, the nosy neighbor now the self-appointed head of Windsor Gardens’ community watch.

This suspense is un-bear-able …

An all-ages adventure honoring the spirit and old-school sensibilities of the city of London, Paddington 2 is a nimble, comical, crowd-pleasing holiday charmer, custom made to both move and entertain. Championed by filmmaker Paul King, and featuring some remarkable imagery and amusing performances, this cracking follow-up is just as big-hearted as the titular teddy bear — make no mistake about it, Paddington 2 is flippin’ paw-some!

4 / 5 – Recommended

Reviewed by S-Littner

Paddington 2 is released through Studio Canal Australia