It’s been three years since Paddington Bear flooded the Browns’ house and stole our hearts, and following that huge success the British-made blockbuster is back.
Sadly, Paddington’s creator, Michael Bond, will not be here to see it – the film is dedicated to the writer, who passed away in June. However, there’s little doubt that this is a tribute that would have made him very proud.
Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) is now living happily as a member of the Brown Family and is a pillar of his community. With the 100th birthday of his beloved Aunt Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton) approaching, he decides to get her something special: a one-of-a-kind pop-up book. Unfortunately, egotistical actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant) also wants the valuable book, steals it, and frames Paddington in the process. With no evidence and facing jail, the bear must clear his name.
Too many times, a franchise has almost been taken by surprise at its success and produced a follow-up that is rushed and soulless. This film happily avoids that trap, but also might be one of the best movies of the year.
Proceeding with full knowledge of what works (and what doesn’t), the story takes the lovable bear on an adventure that involves prison, police chases and a hatful of marmalade sandwiches. Much like the Aardman animated films, the this has both intelligence and innocence wrapped up in a lot of feel-good moments. There’s plenty of belly laughs, too, with a script that peppers the dialogue with quick wit and funny misunderstandings. It’s irresistible fun, primarily because Paddington is so adorable.
With big brown eyes and Ben Whishaw’s soft, unassuming tones, Paddington is a hero you want to believe in. He makes even the grimmest of situations colourful and light with his optimism, such as winning over a group of hardened criminals by improving the prison canteen menu. Such a positive outlook is a rare thing to find in a world of dark TV shows and gritty superhero movies.
The world around him is also firmly established, with the Browns involved in some fun subplots, such as Mr Brown (Hugh Bonneville) going through a midlife crisis and the irrepressible Mrs Bird (Julie Walters) venting her mistrust of actors. Everyone has their moment, and the experienced stars make each one memorable.
A sequel is only as good as its new additions, however, and as with everything else, Paddington 2 has this covered. One of the chief successes is the casting of Brendan Gleeson as curmudgeonly cook Knuckles, who becomes Paddington’s unlikely ally. Proving as adept at family-friendly comedy as he is at searing drama, he’s a welcome surprise.
Then there’s Hugh Grant, who’s nothing short of sensational. Following on from Nicole Kidman’s game pantomime villain in the first film, Grant sends up both the acting profession and himself perfectly. A sneaky, egotistical man who talks to mannequins of famous theatrical characters in his attic, he gets the tone just right and makes the ideal foil for our furry friend’s innocent heroics.
The first Paddington film charmed us with a sincerity that’s not often found in family movies, which tend to opt for laughs over heart. Paddington 2 takes that appeal and builds on it, telling a new story but never forgetting what made us love him in the first place. Following a year of big-budget disappointments, this sequel is an hour and forty minutes of absolute joy.
Paddington 2 is released in cinemas on Friday 10 November