Everyone needs a little bear in their lives. Community spirit spreads like marmalade the nearer one’s proximity to a fuzzy friend in a duffle coat and red hat. This is the thesis of Paddington 2, the thoroughly charming sequel to 2014’s similarly charming Paddington. Devoid of a subtitle but outfitted with a suitably more outlandish storyline, Paddington 2 offers the best in sequels with none of the nasty drawbacks.
Ursinus Marmaladus Paddington (Ben Whishaw, A Hologram for the King) has settled in comfortably with the Brown family: risk analyst Henry (Hugh Bonneville, Viceroy’s House), illustrator Mary (Sally Hawkins, Maudie), children Judy (Madeleine Harris, TV’s Man Down) and Jonathan (Samuel Joslin, Paddington), and distant relative Mrs. Bird (Julie Walters, National Treasure). Desperate to earn money to buy a birthday present for his Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton, Finding Your Feet), Paddington starts doing odd jobs around London. Unfortunately, faded actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant, Florence Foster Jenkins) has his eye on the same gift.
Directed by Paul King (Paddington) and co-written by the filmmaker and Simon Farnaby (Mindhorn), Paddington 2 has a comfortably familiar scent. Rather than resetting the status quo established before the conclusion of the first film, Paddington’s London has been lived in for the last three years: everyone knows him, and he touches the lives of everyone he meets in a positive way. The bear — and the film itself —is immune to cynicism. It’s rare to see such a sweet and good-natured film that has no interest in taking its lead down a notch. King and Farnaby want Paddington to succeed, and this is translated perfectly to the screen.
This is helped by the obvious enthusiasm of everyone involved in the project, Paddington having been a national treasure in England for some sixty years. No one gives the impression of slumming it in a children’s movie with a CG bear. Grant spends many of his scenes talking to himself without even the pretence of having a bear to talk to, and he’s having the time of his life capering across the screen. Brendan Gleeson (Hampstead), as hardened criminal Knuckles McGinty, works up a genuine rapport with Paddington; there’s never any question that he, the Browns, and the people who live on Paddington’s street — with the exception of the dastardly Mr. Curry (Peter Capaldi, Dr. Who) — don’t have complete faith in their ursine comrade. Whishaw, of course, brings Paddington to life with the precise balance of innocence and vulnerability. One may wonder precisely what he weighs, but they will never question why someone would befriend the little bear.
Despite all of this, Paddington 2 would not work if the aesthetic was not credible; a man in a bear suit may have read more Ewok than beloved cultural icon, and that would not have done at all. Paddington is on screen for much of the film’s breezy 95 minutes, and so the effect is not used sparingly. He inhabits the space, and he commands it. There is a moment in a laundry that so completely sells the illusion that Paddington is real that you’d never question anything again. The rest of the film rises to Paddington’s level, including intricately designed machines and a cross-section that cunningly leads into one of the film’s set pieces; there’s even a segment set inside a pop-up book crafted to be reminiscent of the original animated series of many years past. So much care went into the construction of Paddington 2 that it’s difficult not to get carried away with it.
Paddington 2 is a well-deserved sequel that gives its audience everything that they deserve without simply rehashing all of the best beats of the first film. If more writers and directors respected their audiences as King and Farnaby clearly does, the world’s entertainment output would be significantly improved. Just like the bear himself, Paddington 2 makes the world a slightly better place.
Paddington 2 opened in Australian cinemas on December 21, 2017.
Directed by: Paul King.
Starring: High Bonneville, Sally Watkins, Brendan Gleeson, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, Hugh Grant and Ben Wishaw.