Paul King’s 2014 movie adaptation of Paddington was an instant classic, and proof that they do make them like they used to, even though they now make them with state-of-the-art computer-generated effects that can render a beloved children’s character like Paddington, the bear from darkest Peru who finds himself stranded at the London station that gives him his name, in a photo-realistic style. Set in an idyllic London that just about still exists, it rebuilt Michael Bond’s marvellous story of good-natured marmalade-flavoured mishaps with extraordinary care and attention, and assembled a dream cast, including Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins and Julie Walters as Paddington’s adoptive family, plus Nicole Kidman, Peter Capaldi, Jim Broadbent, Matt Lucas, and the voices of Ben Whishaw, Michael Gambon and Imelda Staunton. Even Paddington creator Michael Bond popped up in a cameo. “Please look after this bear,” he might have said as he handed the reins of his nearly sixty-year-old creation to the makers of the film. And they did.
Paddington was so good, in fact, that it was hard to imagine that the inevitable sequel could possibly hold a candle to it. Only two film franchises in history has really managed back-to-back classics, and the chances of Paddington 2 pulling off an Empire Strikes Back or a Godfather Part II, seemed pretty remote, despite the fact that writer-director Paul King was back for a second helping, along with pretty much the entire cast of the first film. With Nicole Kidman’s Millicent having met a sticky end, Paddington 2 called for a new villain, and Hugh Grant proves to be the perfect choice, playing insufferably thespian Phoenix Buchanan for all he’s worth. His costume and accent changes alone would be worth the price of admission alone, if there wasn’t so much else here to love.
After a brief flashback to Uncle Pastuzo and Aunt Lucy’s dramatic rescue of a baby bear, the plot begins as Paddington, now settled with the Browns (and Mrs Bird) near London’s Portobello Road, sets out to find a birthday gift for his beloved Aunt, who’s about to turn 100. The perfect present, a home-made pop-up book of London, turns out to be rather expensive, so Paddington takes a job, first as a barber’s assistant – with hilarious consequences – then, with rather more success, as a window cleaner. But when washed-up West End legend Phoenix Buchanan discovers that the book holds clues to a secret stash of treasure hidden somewhere in the city, he resolves to steal it – and Paddington gets the blame and gets thrown in prison. What happens next is too brilliantly funny and inventive to spoil here; suffice to say if you thought Brendan Gleeson was funny in The Guard, In Bruges or – yes – even The Smurfs 2, wait until you meet prison chef ‘Knuckles’ McGinty, who is such a knucklehead his knuckle tattoos spell out NUCKLE’S complete with capital ‘N’ and misplaced apostrophe. It’s exquisite details like that – and a hundred, maybe even a thousand more – that make Paddington 2 a joy from start to finish, whether you’re as young as Paddington or as old as Aunt Lucy.
There’s so much that makes Paddington 2 an equal rather than a sequel: the cast (the legendary Nina Gold strikes again), the good-old-days production design, the CG character work, and Paul King’s kinetic direction. But, as with the first film, it’s all in service to a brilliantly witty, inventive and genuinely hilarious screenplay, co-written by King and Simon Farnaby, who returns as memorably super-weird security guard Brian. Michael Bond may no longer be with us (the film is dedicated to his memory, in more ways than one), but his beloved bear is in very, very good hands.
Is Paddington 2 a Good Movie for Kids?
What a terrific role model Paddington is. He’s a pillar of the community, helping everyone around him, and his entire adventure in Paddington 2 is ignited by his desire to find the perfect birthday present for his beloved Aunt Lucy. He takes a series of menial jobs to pay for it, and when he gets in trouble does his best to put it right. Best of all, he always tries to find the best in people – even the hardened criminals he meets in prison – and brings everyone around to his sweet-natured way of thinking. Well, almost everyone: there’s not much hope for redemption for Mr Curry (the petty, xenophobic little busybody probably voted Leave) or the real villain of the piece, Phoenix Buchanan.