The sequel is a joyous instant classic.
If Paddington 2 is a sign of what 2018 has in store, there is hope. Based on the original books by Michael Bond, the new family comedy from writer/director Paul King improves upon the first film, with more puns, prop comedy, homages to classic Hollywood, and an overall cheerful wonder.
As established in its precursor feature, Paddington is a mild-mannered bear from Peru (voiced by Ben Whishaw, Bright Star) who resides with a family in a London neighborhood. The Brown household, made up of mother Mary (Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water, Maudie), father Henry (Hugh Bonneville, Downton Abbey), young teens Judy (Madeleine Harris, The White Queen) and Jonathan (Samuel Joslin, The Impossible), and housekeeper Mrs. Bird (Julie Walters), have made a home for the bear, and he has grown a community and routine amidst their neighborhood.
The London of Paddington 2 is unabashedly inclusive, as evidenced by the supporting cast making up the numerous characters the bear befriends. The community which supports the bear and his family seems like something out of a Capra film, but here people of color aren’t limited to stereotype. Paddington 2 feels like a love letter to the diverse populations that call London home.
Hugh Grant plays a neighbor of the Browns, a self-obsessed actor past his prime who wants the same antique pop-up book of London that Paddington hopes to gift to his aunt. It’s like Grant was made for the role of Phoenix Buchanan. He tosses out accents with ease; his Buchanan is equal parts crafty and preposterously self-assured. I’ve never seen the actor perform a part like this before — he’s fantastic.
Paddington is sent to prison for a crime he, of course, didn’t commit (that polite little bear would never). He meets a grump named Nuckles (Brendan Gleeson), who undergoes an attitude adjustment upon tasting the bear’s homemade orange marmalade. Paddington 2‘s plot sounds ridiculous — and it is — but in the context of this wondrous world where people still use landlines and answering machines, it all just works.
There’s a sense of magic in the pastel-colored townhomes of the neighborhood, the golden tones of the fair the Browns attend, and even the inspired architecture of the prison where Paddington is locked up. The craft of the bear’s CGI design is so beautifully done and the actors around him of such caliber that at times you almost forget he’s animated. Yet an imagined tour of a pop-up book with Paddington and his aunt Lucy is something that could only be done through animation, a moment so gorgeous and touching that it awes the viewer.
Even after reading claims of Paddington 2’s greatness from the British film folks I follow on Twitter, I went into the screening with reservations… but they were right. A treat for adults and children alike, this movie is an instant classic. Just like the bear it depicts, Paddington 2 delivers joy to those who come to know it. The film has set a high standard for other upcoming releases this new year to follow.
Note: stay through the early end credits for a spectacular dance number. To go into much description would spoil the ending, but I’ll give these hints: 1) Hugh Grant singing in pink flared pants, 2) Busby-Berkeley inspired choreography, and 3) a song by Sondheim.
Paddington 2 opens in theaters stateside on Thursday, January 11.