It’s THAT good
Paddington Bear is one of those childhood blind spots for me, I don’t think I ever read a single story of the character. Sure I knew of him through cultural osmosis, but I never had the same level of nostalgia that some may have had when we went to all see the first Paddington movie. And to my utter shock…it was good. Like, shockingly good. It was heartwarming, funny, and it never once annoyed me the way some children’s movies often do. So seeing most of the main cast and team that worked on that film return for the sequel did give me a little bit of hope that the finished product would also turn up decent…though that hope has been dashed under similar circumstances before. But against all odds, despite a silly premise, Paddington 2 is a short, sweet, charming, and solid (that’s what she said) movie.
To get you up to speed, Paddington (Ben Whishaw) is a talking bear from Darkest Peru who was adopted by the Brown family in the last movie. This includes the worry-wart father, Henry (Hugh Bonneville), the free-spirited artist mother Mary (Sally Hawkins), the fiercely-independent teenage Judy (Madeleine Harris), the dorky Jonathan (Samuel Joslin), and the family’s neat-freak and violence-prone maid, Mrs. Bird (Julie Walters). While Paddington has enjoyed his new life in London, he does want to get his Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) a great gift for her 100th birthday. Seeing a gorgeous pop-up book in his friend, Mr. Gruber’s (Jim Broadbent) antique shop, Paddington takes up various jobs to buy the book…that is until master of disguise/failed actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant) steals the book and frames the poor bear for the crime. While the Brown family desperately tries to clear his name, Paddington has to navigate the various prison inmates including the aggressive cook, Nuckles (Brendan Gleeson).
On paper, yes this story is absolutely silly. Hell, I may have just described one or two Saturday Morning Cartoon plots for you just now. But what makes Paddington 2 work is its focus on delivering likable characters engage in colorful slapstick that is constantly trying to one up itself and never beating a joke into the ground. I give Will Ferrell a lot of criticism for this faux pas because a joke is only funny once. The punchline is delivered and the next joke is thrown at you. It gives a movie like this one a good sense of flow, as it forces the writers and director to use their imaginations while they also avoid making a good joke unfunny. Comedy is a series of diminishing returns when you repeat itself like in Daddy’s Home 2, but Paddington 2 merely gives a few callbacks to some jokes in the first film by expanding upon them rather than outright copy itself.
And while the humor is spot on for a family comedy, that is to say anyone of any age can enjoy a movie rather than merely babies, what I really adored in these series of films is the character of Paddington himself. You see, he is a young bear who was raised on British etiquette records and didn’t know much about modern day London society until he got there. He endears himself to other characters due to his polite naivety, despite the fact he’s also an absolute klutz. However, unlike the Will Ferrell man-child who has varying degrees of retardation, Paddington very quickly learns his lesson and makes appropriate course corrections the way another pop culture icon did last year. And his insistence on refraining from violence or acting rude to others makes him attractive as a friend both to other characters and the audience as they all take part in his misadventures.
Basically, Paddington is an awesome character, and I will gladly shun you if you don’t treat the bear with some deserved respect. Heck, I even appreciated how the filmmakers brought this character to life through some very unique looking motion capture as well as the energetic performance from Ben Whishaw (he’s Q in the new James Bond movies). But the budget didn’t merely stop at the beloved bear, but the entire production set looks bright and colorful (unlike the usual depiction of dreary ol’ London) and that’s before you get to a gorgeous-looking pop-up book segment that’s filmed like a one-shot take and looks on par with a Pixar production. Actually, the budget must have been larger this time around as the filmmakers were also able to afford a bigger and more dynamic final chase sequence that appears as if the first film’s climax got some steroids and decided to show everyone what it could really do.
But mercifully the budget wasn’t entirely spent on pumping up the visuals, but also being able to afford a high quality cast. The returning thespians from the first movie are all here and seem to be enjoying themselves to the fullest. Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville in particular had great chemistry with each other, and I even appreciated that both of their characters slightly evolved from the first movie so they never feel like they’re regressing unlike a certain other British comedy. Even Peter Capaldi returned to the fold, fresh off his success with Doctor Who, as the curmudgeonly Mr. Curry, serving as a minor antagonist throughout the proceedings.
But the main villain role belongs to Hugh Grant and…wow, did he knock his performance out of the park. This is the most excitable I’ve seen Grant in years, as he plays a failed actor desperately trying to reclaim the limelight despite how full of himself he is. He even talks to himself in various character personas, like a PG-version of Split. And while he’s never as threatening as Nicole Kidman’s go-for-bonkers performance in the first Paddington, he still delivers the laughs with his snake-like charm.
Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about Brendan Gleeson (Mad Eye Moody from the Harry Potter movies), because he too is a riot. Fitting into a role of a hardened criminal who slowly becomes charmed by Paddington’s upbeat demeanor, his character transformation is shown to be both believable and funny as the movie goes along. It becomes even better when he himself starts to adopt the bear’s etiquette in a couple of choice scenes that gave me a solid chuckle. And that’s what Paddington 2 has in spades: several memorable scenes that put a big stupid grin on your face while also remembering to show a ticking heart that draws the sympathies where it needs to.
All of this is directed by Paul King, a British writer/director who was also at the helm of the first Paddington and has already been tapped to do the same for the inevitable sequel. He clearly has an eye for family entertainment and classic farce in the mold of Looney Tunes, and he makes that love known throughout Paddington 2. I have zero things to complain about in this movie, and I was this close to assigning this film my highest rating possible. I’m not as it didn’t really yank on my heartstrings the way Coco did, but this film is absolutely superb and you should totally watch it with your kids or by yourself even if you don’t have children. Because this is an enthusiastic…
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