Sometimes I wonder why they even make a sequel, yet that thought never crossed my mind while watching Paddington 2 with my son. Sitting in a theater filled with children who were as enthusiastic as he was, I found the film to be a delight as well.
Having loved the original 2015 film, I wondered how director Paul King (who co-wrote the script with Simon Farnaby) could pull off a sequel to something that seemed nearly perfect. Happily, King brings back original cast members and adds a couple of dynamite new ones – Hugh Grant and Brendan Gleeson – and the result is pure joy.
Paddington (voiced by Ben Wishaw) is amazingly realized and never once did I think about the CGI that went into creating him. Paddington moves around and interacts with the human characters flawlessly, and everything from the hair on his body to the bubble from his nose under water to the tear on his face does nothing to suggest that this is not the real little Peruvian bear we have all come to love.
As the film begins we see Paddington happily ensconced in the Windsor Gardens neighborhood of London that the Brown family calls home. The Browns – dad Henry (Hugh Bonneville), mom Mary (Sally Hawkins), son Jonathan (Samuel Joslin), and daughter Judy (Madeline Harris), along with cranky housekeeper Mrs. Bird (Julie Walters) – all love and care for Paddington as another family member. Paddington has endeared himself to their neighbors as well, making small but significant differences in each of their lives, except for the surly self-elected neighborhood watchman Mr. Curry (Peter Capaldi).
All is going well until Paddington discovers an old pop-up book of various London landmarks in Mr. Gruber’s (Jim Broadbent) antique shop and decides to get it as a birthday gift for his beloved Aunt Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton) back in Peru. Gruber explains that it is very expensive, so this makes Paddington take on jobs for which he is ill suited and results in laugh out loud antics (judging from my son and kids in the theater audience) that slowly earn him enough money to buy the book.
The problem is that this book is also sought by has-been actor Phoenix Buchanan – played with panache by Grant – who somehow knows that the book contains a secret code that will lead him to a vast fortune. When Grant dresses in one of his old stage costumes as a disguise and breaks into Gruber’s store to get the book, Paddington attempts to stop him and ends up getting arrested for the theft.
One of the kids in the theater blurted out, “That’s not fair,” and indeed it is not, but it sets up the premise of Paddington in jail as he gets thrown in with a bunch of thugs and gets to wear prison pinstripes – which he turns pink along with all the other jailbirds’ clothes in a laundry room accident – setting his fellow prisoners temporarily against him.
Of course, just as Paddington won over the hearts of the Browns and the Windsor Gardens neighbors, Paddington somehow manages to do the same with inmates by taming the irascible prison chef Knuckles McGinty (the hilarious Gleeson) by teaching him the recipe for his delicious marmalade sandwiches.
While Paddington does “hard time” in jail, the Browns take it upon themselves to try to find the real thief and clear the lovable ursine’s name. We are getting into spoiler territory now, but the rest of the ride is joyful for the kids and throws in enough subtle tidbits to keep adults happy too.
Grant’s performance is his best in years, and the key is his willingness to go with the hammy actor concept, but shading it with nuances that reveal the underlying suffering of a once celebrated thespian who is forced to take on dog food commercials to survive. As the villain of the story, he is mean enough but sprinkles tongue-in-cheek humor in each scene that is refreshing.
At the core of a film that is funny, sad, and at times intriguing – as the Browns get better at playing detectives to solve the mystery – is a little bear who has heart and soul. Paddington teaches by example, showing that kindness, respect, and acceptance – even for the incarcerated scoundrels he encounters – are important ways to live life. It’s a lesson that will be understood by kids and hopefully their parents.
While some little ones might get a bit worried that Paddington is in trouble here and there, it is always understood that Paddington is safe. It is also quite clear that his innate goodness shines brightly and touches everyone, even the most hardened criminals who end up becoming his friends, and this gets him out of difficult situations. King has done an excellent job of bringing the essence of the warmth and love found in Michael Bond’s books to the screen.
Overall, Paddington 2 delivers joy and delight and is as good – or perhaps even a tad better – than the original film. Your kids will love it and you’ll be leaving the theater with a smile on your face as well. Oh, and stick around for the closing credits for some additional scenes. They are a hoot.