Director: Paul King
Starring: Ben Wishaw; Hugh Grant; Hugh Bonneville; Sally Hawkins; Madeleine Harris; Samuel Joslin; Julie Walters; Jim Broadbent; Brendan Gleeson; Peter Capaldi; Marie-France Alvarez; Sanjeev Bhaskar; Ben Miller; Jessica Hynes; Robbie Gee; Imelda Staunton
Films can make you feel a lot of things, but it is rare that one can make you feel pure, unbridled joy. With its sincerity and sweetness, Paul King’s Paddington 2, sequel to 2014’s successful adaptation of the beloved Michael Bond character, is just such a film.
Paddington Brown (Ben Wishaw) wants to buy an extra special birthday present for his beloved Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) who is about to turn one hundred, to say thank you for all that she has done for him. In Mr Gruber’s (Jim Broadbent) old curiosity shop he finds just the thing, a pop-up book of the sights of London. The only problem is that it is a one of a kind antique, and much more expensive than a humble bear can afford. Knowing it is the perfect gift, Paddington sets out to find himself a job. However, when the shop is broken into and the book stolen, Paddington finds himself falsely blamed and thrown into prison. In the big house, Paddington has to win over Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson) and the other prisoners with the only weapons at his disposal: kindness, manners and marmalade. On the outside, Mr and Mrs Brown (Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins) and the family work tirelessly to clear his name. What none of them know is that the actual thief is their new neighbour, Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), a once respected actor who is now best known for his dog food commercials.
Classic works of children’s literature can be challenging to translate to the big screen because sometimes the simplicity of these stories can get lost in the attempt to extend them out to a runtime approaching 90mins at a storytelling pace that audiences have come to expect. But in having Paddington get into trouble while trying to buy a birthday present, Paddington 2 is a perfectly pitched Paddington story. Even as the story becomes more complex – Buchanan’s interest in the pop-up book stems from the idea that it contains clues to a hidden treasure, which he then sets about trying to find – it doesn’t betray the simplicity that it started with.
While it is often assumed that for a children’s film to be ‘for the whole family’ – which is usually code for ‘actually a good movie’ – it needs to wink knowingly at the grown ups, Paddington 2 does no such thing. Rather, it distinguishes itself through the seeming care that has been taken in all aspects of the film: characterisation, relationships, even aesthetics. Paddington 2 is a beautiful film to look at. In addition to the impressive digital creation of Paddington himself, there are hints of Wes Anderson in the aesthetic, particularly in the pastel colours and doll house view of the prison sequences. Most striking, however, is a gorgeously realised scene in which Paddington imagines himself and Aunt Lucy among the paper cutouts of the pop-up book.
A very British film, Paddington 2 draws from the stylistic traditions of pantomime and music hall. Returning co-writer and director Paul King brings a clear understanding of comic timing and presentation, having cut his teeth directing television comedy (most notably The Mighty Boosh). This digitally created bear shows off a Chaplin-like gift for physical comedy in some brilliant comedy sequences as he attempts to do the laundry, or wash windows, or work in a barber shop – what could go wrong? Hugh Grant is also an absolute scene stealer as Phoenix Buchanan, in a role which earned him a second consecutive BAFTA nomination (after his impressive work in Florence Foster Jenkins). Shaking off the foppish romantic lead tag he has worn throughout his career, Grant demonstrates a comedic versatility, with Buchanan allowing him to revel in disguises and accents.
Impressively, the pantomime style doesn’t prevent emotional impact. There is a silent moment towards the end of the film shared between Paddington and Mrs Brown which will absolutely destroy you. And the film’s final moment, while you see it coming and are ready for it, will still have you surreptitiously wiping your eyes while the credits roll. Fortunately there is a mid-credit sequence in which we finally get to see a big number from Phoenix’s one-man show which ensures that you leave the film with a smile on your face.
At its heart, this is a film about the importance of kindness and treating people with decency. It is somewhat of an indictment of the world at the moment that this simple message seems every bit as pointedly political as the first film’s message about the importance of welcoming migrants did. A charming film, Paddington 2 manages to be entirely genuine in its delightfulness, never veering into the sickly sweet or naff. In a market awash with egotistical anti-heroes and morally dubious protagonists, Paddington Brown is the hero we need, not the one we deserve.
Review by Duncan McLean
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