PADDINGTON 2 (Paul King). 104 minutes. Opens Friday (January 12). See listing. Rating: NNNNN
Paddington 2 opens with a prologue set in Darkest Peru, “a few bear years” before the events of the first film, which will delight small children and reassure the grown-ups that this movie will do its best to recapture the spirit and the heart of its wonderful predecessor.
I admit I was worried I shouldn’t have been. Paul King who directed and co-wrote both films, spun from Michael Bond’s fiercely beloved children’s books, knows the language.
Paddington 2 is every bit as delightful, charming and moving as its predecessor, returning us to the slightly cartoonish London we first saw three years ago and giving the friendly little bear (a CG creation voiced with perfect diction by Ben Whishaw) new challenges to overcome, new friends to make and a seemingly impossible goal: finding a birthday present for his Aunt Lucy.
The present is found easily enough: an antique pop-up book of London tourist attractions. But when Paddington is framed for its theft by a vainglorious actor (Hugh Grant, of course), he’s sent to prison to fend for himself while his human family (Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, Julie Walters) tries to clear his name.
With that more complex engine driving the plot, King and co-writer Simon Farnaby leave the first film’s refugee allegory behind for a somewhat giddier tale, exploring the ways in which Paddington makes almost everyone he meets a better person – with the exception of characters like Peter Capaldi’s sneering neighbourhood-watch baddie Mr. Curry, who simply refuse his entreaties.
King also uses those diagrammatic prison sets to stage an escalating, ingenious homage to Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel that seems to be there just for the fun of it and is absolutely marvellous in its execution. The children at my preview screening didn’t care about any of that, mind you they were just there for the adventure. They’ll appreciate the artistry of it later.
As in the first film, the movie is peppered with English actors having a great time, rather than just phoning it in for a pay cheque. Hawkins, Bonneville and Grant all go above and beyond, and two dozen UK entertainers pop up in cameos just to be part of it.
There’s a warmth and a joy running through the Paddington films that overwhelms in the best possible way, without ever tipping into syrupy manipulation. Maybe that’s just the difference between treacle and marmalade.