Director: Paul King Starring: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Boneville, Sally Hawkins, Hugh Grant, Brendan Gleeson, Julie Walters Running Time: 103 minutes
Perhaps one of the reasons that critics respond so heartily to the Paddington films is because of what they’re not as much as what they are. Seeing the trailers for children’s films before the feature begins, it’s a breath of fresh air to see just how earnest Paddington Bear is, how little he dances to the latest pop hits, how not-voiced-by-James-Corden he is. An actual effort to celebrate the charming work of Michael Bond, to whom this sequel is dedicated after he passed away this June, shines through in this film; without delving too far into cliche it presents a world of wonder, one that looks increasingly appealing where most kid’s film follow ups double down into a cynical cash-grab.
Having settled into life at the Brown family home in Windsor Gardens, Paddington Bear is enjoying being an active member of the community. Still sweetly voiced with wide-eyed optimism by Ben Whishaw, he lives in a London that’s sweetly ideal, multicultural and co-operative, where people help each other and even smile at each other during their morning commute, which might actually be more fanciful than a talking bear that loves marmalade. He’s even started work, a series of slapstick vignettes at the barbers, washing windows and so on that are ideal for children, all in the hopes of making enough money to purchase a special pop-up book of London for his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday. The sincerity of the film’s leading bear rubs off on almost everyone around him, but when the pop-up book is stolen, doubt and suspicion still manage to creep in. Framed by the pompous washed up actor Hugh Grant (that is, Phoenix Buchanan, played by Hugh Grant), Paddington is sent to prison. While his family tries to clear his name, Paddington adjusts to life behind bars, befriending the prison chef Knuckles McGinty, played by Brendan Glesson at his curmudgeonly best.
The host of British and Irish actors in Paddington 2 all contribute handily to the kind and welcoming vibe, from leads Sally Hawkins and Hugh Boneville (in full bumbling sitcom dad mode), to supporting ringers like Julie Walters and Jim Broadbent, to B-for-Brilliant B-Listers making up the small parts like Jessica Hynes, Tom Conti and more. It could so easily veer into being sickly sweet, but there’s a level of class that prevents that. Even Grant, who would be well-excused to chew the scenery in the villain role, does so with proper manners, mouth closed and napkin close at hand. There’s a fine line between winking and mugging and he manages to pull it off. The film around them is creative and visually appealing, mixing in pop-up visuals, charcoal sketches, archive footage and more amidst Wes Anderson-esque colours and staging (someone’s clearly been watching The Grand Budapest Hotel). Director Paul King, who also directed the first Paddington keeps the film’s charms flowing and stages set pieces with a deft hand. To capably balance comedic vignettes in the beginning with prison breaks and train chases shows a talent worth keeping an eye on.
Ideal Sunday afternoon viewing, Paddington 2 is sincere British filmmaking, with a genuine nature that ensures it can be watched again and again. Though he’s always wearing a raincoat, Paddington lives in a world that’s sunny and sweet. It’s well worth visiting the world of the absolute bear a second time, and here’s hoping for a third.(4 / 5)