Paddington 2

Marmalade is the key to all the world’s problems.

Cast of Characters:
Henry Brown – Hugh Bonneville
Mary Brown – Sally Hawkins
Nuckles McGinty – Brendan Gleeson
Mrs. Bird – Julie Walters
Samuel Gruber – Jim Broadbent
Mr. Curry – Peter Capaldi
Judy Brown – Madeleine Harris
Jonathan Brown – Samuel Joslin
Aunt Lucy – voiced by Imelda Staunton
Phoenix Buchanan – Hugh Grant
Paddington Brown – voiced by Ben Whishaw

Director – Paul King
Screenplay – Paul King & Simon Farnaby
Based on characters created by Michael Bond
Producer – David Heyman
Rated PG for some action and mild rude humor

Following the events from the first film, Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) has settled in nicely with the Brown family – Henry (Hugh Bonneville), Mary (Sally Hawkins), their two kids Judy (Madeleine Harris) and Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) and Mrs. Bird (Julie Walters) – and has become quite popular within the community of Windsor Gardens. With his Aunt Lucy’s (voiced by Imelda Staunton) 100th birthday arriving shortly, Paddington wishes to get her a birthday gift, and with the help of antique shop owner Samuel Gruber (Jim Broadbent) finds the perfect gift in a popup book of London – the city his aunt his dreamed of visiting for years. There’s one small catch though: given the rarity of the book, its price is quite expense. Nevertheless, a determined Paddington decides to work a number of odd jobs in order to save up money for the gift.

However, just as Paddington has finally saved up the amount he needs, trouble arises when Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), an egotistical actor with a flair for disguises, steals the book and sets up Paddington as the culprit. With no evidence to prove otherwise, Paddington is wrongfully convicted and sentenced to prison. It’ll be up to the Brown family to clear Paddington’s name and find out the identity of the real thief.

One of the biggest surprises of 2015 was Paddington, a film that had to overcome two unfortunate circumstances of arriving in January and having a terrible, overly slapstick driven trailer promoting it. The film ended up proving two things. One, even in January, keep your fingers crossed for something good. Two, never judge a film just by its trailer, no matter how bad it looks, ’cause Paddington was quite a charming surprise.

So, with the first film being a surprise critical hit and also earning over $260 million on just a $55 million budget, it’s no surprise we’re getting a sequel, with director Paul King, Harry Potter producer David Heyman and most of the original cast all returning. Of course, expectations have been raised immensely following the first film’s success. Sequel-itis is always a concern, but with the key players back, can they deliver another January surprise like they did three years ago?

The Good: This film is Adorable, and yes, that’s adorable with a capital A. Paddington 2 has followed a road that’s been paved with garbage like Jim Carrey’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Mike Myers’s The Cat in the Hat, Garfield, Scooby-Doo and the Chipmunk movies (among the many classic cartoons adapted into live-action/CGI animation blended catastrophes), and left them all behind in the dust, showing those turds that this is how you do a family film right.

Cross-cutting between two plots for most of the film – the Browns search for the true thief and Paddington’s time behind bars – director Paul King erases any doubts viewers might have had about the sequel losing a bit of the novelty the first film had. In fact, Paddington 2 is actually a touch better than its predecessor thanks to its choice of villain (Nicole Kidman was by no means bad in the last film, but her dastardly plan might have been a tad too dark for younger viewers). As he did in the first film, King finds that perfect balance between Paddington’s crazy but well-meaning antics that the kids will love, and droll, sophisticated humor for adults that refreshingly doesn’t feel the need to resort to double entendres or pop culture references (Charlie Chaplin aficionados will appreciate a great Modern Times reference).

Also returning are the eye-popping aesthetics – a combination of Erik Wilson’s cinematography and Gary Williamson’s whimsical production design – that will immediately draw comparisons to Wes Anderson’s uniquely crafted, detail-oriented worlds. The prison sets, in particular, look exactly like they came out of Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel (another nice touch is the way Paddington imagining showing his Aunt Lucy the sights of London appear in popup book form). King’s attention to detail even extends to the titular character’s CGI design, especially with the ways they animate Paddington’s fur or facial expressions. It’s one of the finest character effects you’ll see onscreen this year.

Save Nicole Kidman, all the primary actors from the first film are back for the sequel. Ben Whishaw’s gentle voice serves as a wonderfully endearing compliment to his character’s exquisite animation. Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Academy Award winner Jim Broadbent and Peter Capaldi all deliver strong supporting work, each getting a moment or two to shine. Their performances are even more impressive when you consider most of their scenes with the bear are done acting opposite a tennis ball that has yet to be turned into the character effect.

Appearing for the first time, both Brendan Gleeson and Hugh Grant turn in two of the film’s best performances, the latter easily earning the scene-stealer crown. As the gruff, hard-nosed prison chef who eventually befriends Paddington, Gleeson is great fun to watch as he gradually sheds his tough as nails demeanor to reveal a softer, vulnerable side. Grant is clearly having the time of his life as the vain, has-been actor who’s been reduced to doing cheesy dog food commercials. There’s definitely a bit of self-deprecation coming from Grant, and he relishes every bit of it with devilish, scene-chewing glee. It’s not often that you’ll get to see him don a nun habit and then get referred to as “an unusually attractive nun”.

Speaking of Grant, I’d be remiss if I forget to tell you to stay during the end credits. I won’t reveal why, but trust me ’cause it’s a showstopper.

Thematically, King and Farnaby continue Paddington’s messages of family and kindness. Sure, they may not be aiming for anything particularly deep, but that’s okay here. This film’s messages of paying it forward and finding the good in others may be simple, but they nevertheless are handled with enough thoughtfulness to resonate with viewers, especially with kids.

The Bad: There really isn’t much to complain about here. If there is any gripe to be made, it’s that while King and Farnaby do create a wondrous sense of community within Windsor Gardens, it’s almost to a fault given the number of supporting character the film has to juggle. I get that the secondary and tertiary characters’ purpose here is to show the positive effect Paddington has had on their lives, and there’s definitely no complaint there per se, but with all the characters that pop up the film teeters close to overcrowding.

But in the end, c’mon… like that’s really a deal breaker.

The Ugly: Faded celebrity narcissism – it’s not a pretty look.

Consensus: There’s no denying how shamelessly Paddington 2 wears its heart on its sleeve, but in this case, that’s perfectly fine. It’s thanks to a game, A-level cast, Paul King’s deft direction and the combined efforts of strong character animation and Ben Whishaw’s wonderful voice work that it avoids maudlin sentimentality and instead provides a healthy dose of humor and sweetness the whole family can enjoy.

Silver Screen Fanatic’s Verdict: I give Paddington 2 an A- (★★★½).

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