When the first PADDINGTON movie came out a couple of years ago, for some reason I just wasn’t in the mood to see a CGI version of the beloved bear come to life. I was never really a fan of the children’s books myself, and since my son had no interest in the film I decided to skip this one in the theaters. Recently, we decided to finally stream the film, and to my astonishment we both really enjoyed the film- so much so that we watched it again the next night! Why in the world I so easily dismissed the adaptation of the famed children’s story, I have no clue, but the fantastically dreamy and whimsical world that director Paul King created with the initial outing definitely had my 8 year old and I chomping at the bit for the next chapter in the sweet bear’s adventures. Luckily with PADDINGTON 2, we were treated to another delightful, even more enjoyable take on the misadventures of the friendly, furry animal.
The story begins with a flashback chronicling the tumultuous event that led to Aunt Lucy and Uncle Pastuzo saving the young cub Paddington from certain death thus indefinitely postponing their eagerly anticipated trip to London. Flash forward to current day England where Paddington is safely ensconced with the Brown family in their charming Windsor Gardens row house where the bear’s friendly demeanor has permeated even the most curmudgeonly neighbor’s outlook on life. With Aunt Lucy’s birthday fast approaching, Paddington is on the hunt for the perfect gift to send to his beloved caretaker who sacrificed her own dreams to provide a safe and happy home for him all those years ago. At the local antique shop his friend Mr. Gruber shows Paddington the perfect, albeit expensive, gift for his aunt- a handmade pop up book featuring various sites around his new hometown that would make a most appropriate present for the loved one who has always dreamed of visiting London. Paddington immediately sets out to earn enough money to purchase the enchanting tome, but his efforts are thwarted when a mysterious thief burglarizes the antique shop, stealing only the pop up book in the process. In a twist of fate, Paddington himself is held responsible for the theft and soon finds himself navigating the cold world of the local penitentiary. From here, the bear sets off on a series of adventures in order to clear his good name and finally procure the special book for his aunt.
Although PADDINGTON 2 is a sequel, the entirely charming film could easily stand alone with its hints and recaps regarding Paddington’s current situation. I was delighted to find that the main cast from the original made the return for the second outing- a solid group of performers who make you completely forget that they are interacting with a CGI counterpart. Also making a return are the hilarious antics of the hapless bear as he tries with the best of intentions to navigate surroundings that aren’t exactly new to him anymore yet are thoroughly confounding nonetheless to great comic effect. I was guffawing right along with my 8 year old as Paddington found himself in one ordeal after another, always coming out on top and with newfound friends- and one or two foes- to boot.
Such a litany of situational comedy provides a grand opportunity for a slew of fine actors to take their turn in Paddington’s fanciful world. As usual, Sally Hawkins radiates pure magic as she sleuths around the city searching for clues to exonerate her furry friend, while Hugh Bonneville as her husband provides much humor as the “straight man” rebelling against middle age.
As Knuckles McGinty, the hard-boiled prison chef who is feared by inmates and guards alike, Brendan Gleeson supplies plenty of cringes and laughs as he becomes acquainted with the new bear on the cell block. The most surprising and satisfying performance in the film, however, belongs to Hugh Grant as the nefarious famed actor Phoenix Buchanan. Instead of employing the familiar bumbling charm we have become accustomed to in many of his past roles, Grant’s caddish turn in PADDINGTON 2 is gleefully wicked. Equal parts dandy and devil, Grant’s incredible ability as a comedic character actor is on full display as he hilariously sashays through every scene. What a joy it is to see such an accomplished actor having so much fun with a role.
Going along with the pop up book theme, Director Paul King employs various gorgeous sequences where the pages of the whimsical text literally come to life. Enchanting touches such as this throughout the story certainly keep the film incredibly visually stimulating and entirely charming. For a children’s film, I was surprised by how little children are actually featured in the story. The Brown kids are now firmly in their teens, and though they each eventually play a small part in helping redeem Paddington, the film ironically belongs to the grown ups. So even though the source material was clearly intended for the little ones- and mine enjoyed the film immensely- PADDINGTON 2 is very much for us big kids too. Give it a chance and I bet you’ll be smitten as well.
Until next time,
aka Annette Kellerman