2014’s ‘Paddington’ was a little miracle of a movie. Contemporary filmmakers were able to take Michael Bond’s dated and almost impossibly earnest creation and make it work for modern audiences thanks to just the right mixture of humor, whimsy and honest emotion. Surely it would be impossible for co-writer/director Paul King to pull that off again? I mean, it shouldn’t have even worked the first time. Somehow, ‘Paddington 2’ is so sweet and moving and funny and imaginative and beautiful that it’s impossible not to be charmed by this thing.
Last time, we saw Paddington (perfectly voiced with gentle innocence by Ben Wishaw) tumble his way from Peru into London and find a home with the Brown family (the always delightful Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins, along with the required children). Now we slip back to see that Paddington continues to inspire joy in the Browns and everyone around him. As his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday approaches, Paddington decides to purchase her a special gift, a pop-up book of London’s greatest landmarks that he spotted in a returning Jim Broadbent’s antique shop. He can’t afford it, of course, so he bumbles his way through a series of odd jobs in a collection of comedic montages. Then something horrible happens. The book is stolen and Paddington is framed for the crime. Next thing you know, that silly old bear is in prison winning over the inmates, while the Brown family are out pounding the pavement and trying to solve the crime. The main culprit? Why, it’s a hilariously hammy actor played by Hugh Grant. Obviously. Who else could it be?
It goes without saying that the plot is completely silly. That’s how these sorts of movies work, and given director Paul King’s background in absurdist British comedy like ‘The Mighty Boosh’, it’s a sweet spot for him. Indeed, the movie is filled with surreal set-pieces ranging from an extended Charlie Chaplain homage as Paddington worms his way through a series of gears in a clock, to a collection of delightfully bizarre heist sequences, plenty of slapstick, and even a few genuinely exciting action scenes. King essentially turns London into a whimsical playground, a place where every street corner is an opportunity for some sort of magical goof-off involving an obscenely lovable little bear. It’s all beautifully made, delivering wondrous visual effects and magically conceived sequences that are often more impressive than those of films thrice this scale. It’s proof that imagination and intent always mean more than budget.
Of course, if ‘Paddington 2’ were mere eye candy, that wouldn’t automatically make it special. Plenty of movies whip up striking visuals, but few are this gut-tinglingly charming. Within King’s immaculately composed frames march some of the finest and funniest British actors alive. Those who follow British TV comedy will find cameos from virtually all their favorite shows. Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins ground the Brown family while fitting the whimsically comedic tone. Brendan Gleeson is both hysterical and heart-warming playing a prison cook named Knuckles McGuinty. The likes of Peter Capaldi, Julie Walters and Jim Broadbent all return to charm your pants off once more. Of all the actors, Hugh Grant steals the show. He’s having the time of his life playing a villainous ham of an actor, and what’s most impressive is how gamely and easily he dips in an out of accents and character types in the role. It’s enough to make you think he was wasted for decades in stuttering rom-com leads when he has so much more comedic range. In a movie filled with minor movie miracles, proving the depth of Hugh Grant just might be the biggest.
Even more than the pretty pictures and wonderful performances, the heart, soul and themes of ‘Paddington 2’ resonate most deeply. Yes, this is a big sprawling live-action cartoon about a bear, but it’s also a story about how the little acts of kindness that anyone can do add up to something bigger and make the world a better place. There’s no better time for a movie so dedicated to that simple and beautiful theme, and few that can express it so well.
‘Paddington 2’ might be a family film (and a niche one outside of Britain), but it’s also a delightful ode to kindness and love that communicates that simple yet important theme in such an elegant and hilarious way that the sequel could charm anyone (yes, even you). Not just any movie that can make you giggle at Hugh Grant executing a heist as a nun, feel moved deeply to the point of tears by a CGI bear, and leave you stumbling out of the theater feeling like a better person (who also inexplicably craves a marmalade sandwich). ‘Paddington 2’ offers all that and so much more. It’s a beautiful film, family-friendly or otherwise, that is not to be missed by anyone who enjoys joy.