That adventurous, well-mannered British bear has returned to the big screen1… and not a moment too soon!
The first Paddington was, for me, an unexpected delight, delivering one of the biggest laughs of any film in 2014. This sequel is, if possible, even more charming, and all the more comforting in these turbulent times.
Paddington (Ben Whishaw), bear extraordinaire, is now firmly settled in as a member of the Brown household; indeed, as the heart of the whole Windsor Gardens community.
Things have moved on a bit in the past few years: mum Mary (Sally Hawkins) is training to swim The Channel; dad Henry (Hugh Bonneville) is going through a bit of a midlife crisis and has taken up young; while, as a response to her first break-up, daughter Judy (Madeline Harris) has started her own newspaper; and brother Jonathan (Samuel Jolin) goes by “J-Dog” since starting senior school and has acquired a pair of shuttered shades (though he’s secretly into steam trains).2
Paddington, meanwhile, is on a search for the perfect present for his beloved Aunt Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton), which he just so happens to uncover in the antique shop of the kindly, Teutonic Mr. Gruber (Jim Broadbent): a one-of-a-kind pop-up book of London landmarks. Unfortunately, that special gift holds a particular significance to Phoenix Buchanan (a wonderfully dastardly Hugh Grant), a vainglorious, over-the-hill thespian3 whose theft of the book lands Paddington in prison.4
Whether cleaning windows or helping out at the barbers, Paddington can’t help but get caught up in well-meaning hijinks. Director Paul King has an eye for inventive chaos – the potential for comedic escalation in the mechanics of say, a rope, a ladder, and an over-heavy bucket of water, or a ceiling fan and an electric razor.5 He and writing partner Simon Farnby achieve such a perfect balance of whimsy and emotion that even a hardened cynic such as myself can’t help but be won over.
Part of this is the remarkable ensemble of British character actors, both new and returning, the film puts together: Ben Miller as the cynical, lonely Colonel; Sanjeev Bhaskar as a forgetful doctor; Peter Capaldi as the mistrusting Mr. Curry, who won’t accept the good-natured bear into who seems to bring so much light into everyone’s lives.
Even at Her Majesty’s pleasure, surrounded by PG-rated hard men, Paddington can’t help but bring a little decorum to his new environment.6 Whether it’s introducing the mad-eyed Knuckles McGinty (a winning Brendan Gleeson) to the pleasures of a marmalade sandwich – a near-religious experience as the film would have it – or transforming the prison dining room into a tearoom worthy of Claridges, Paddington’s ethos, “If you’re kind and polite, it’ll all be alright”, shines through.
As Aunt Lucy herself might put it, Paddington 2 is lovely; just lovely.
- I know there are a few to choose from, so I’ll give you a clue: this one wears clothes. No, not Rupert. This one likes sweet, sticky preserves; you know, in sandwiches? No, not Winnie the Pooh. Nor the one from that John Lewis ad.
- All of which comes in handy, of course, at a late point in the proceedings.
- And master of disguise whose costume personas are all taken from figures in classical literature.
- Julie Walter’s knowing line that “Actors are some of the most evil, devious people on the planet” takes on a sinister relevance given recent revelations; though it’s by no means confined to one side of the camera.
- There’s even a moment involving the cogs of a clock-tower that recalls, of all things, Chaplin’s Modern Times.
- The escape from which, shown partly in cross-section, owes a clear debt to Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel – albeit without a hint of darkness.