Director: Paul King
Screenplay: Paul King, Simon Farnaby
Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, Hugh Grant, Ben Whishaw
Runtime: 103 Minutes
A collective sigh of relief could be heard across the nation when Paddington was released in the winter of 2014. Despite the worrisome marketing material it proved to be a joyous and goodhearted adaptation of Michael Bond’s original source material, arriving to remind us all that there was still some good despite all the hardship in the world. A sequel was immediately greenlit, and coming at a time in which audiences might need something of a pick-me-up given the state of the world, the cast and crew have somehow managed to match their previous accomplishments.
Paddington 2 succeeds because it understands, unlike so many sequels, that sometimes going bigger doesn’t make it better. Against the temptation to take the beloved bear and place him at the centre of a save-the-world narrative or facing off against fantastical creations, the plot is admirably simple; Paddington (Ben Wishaw) wants to buy a popup book of London landmarks for his Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton), but has to get a job in order to afford it - hilarious mishaps follow, including a run in with Hugh Grant’s villainous actor Phoenix Buchanan.
The key is returning director Paul King, whose direction is just as impeccable and picturesque as before, if not more so. A glimpse inside the pop-up book in which Paddington guides his Aunt Lucy around a cardboard representation of London is a beautiful call-back to the classic Michael Hordern animated series, but his work in the basic language of visual storytelling extends beyond that in creative and simple ways. From in camera transitions which almost border on magic-realism, to effective time-lapse effects and camera movements, he brings a real sense of identity to the series that unboxes itself like a toy chest of wonders.
It carries over the same idealistic version of London as its predecessor; a multicultural society built on hope, integration and acceptance as epitomised by Windsor Gardens – where not even the constant grumbling of nationalist allegory Mr. Curry (Peter Capaldi) can deter the neighbours of the street from rallying behind Paddington. Its a 21st-century vision of contemporary London that works around its own iconography while feeling open and accepting of all people – this is still a world in which an anthropomorphic talking bear is never a topic of conversation. Modern in aesthetic and design, and yet at one point, Paddington calls home from a derelict red telephone box. Even the prison system seems like a far more charming place to inhabit as Paddington’s kindness slowly transforms the inmates, including Brendan Gleeson’s hilarious Knuckles McGinty.
Much of this is down to Wishaw, who as the titular character brings so much warmth and wide-eyed optimism to the picture, giving a vocal performance so believable that it’s strange when you have to remind yourself that he’s a perfectly rendered digital creation. Although he is almost upstaged by Grant, who slips into the role of washed-up former theatre performer with remarkable ease (which is meant as the highest compliment). He’s an absolute joy in the role, and the various facades that he wears over the course of his fiendish scheme are all a physical comedy treat.
The structure of the film and its screenplay is faultless; many scenes of which play out like they could easily work as individual stories in and of themselves (Paddington... becomes a Window Cleaner, goes to the Barbers/goes to Prison etc.). It makes sure that the main cast is handled well, and as with the in the previous film every member of the Brown family eventually uses one of their own unique abilities in their efforts to bring Paddington home, and the returning cast is as game and enjoyable as before. Just how good is this film? There’s an action sequence on a train during the climax that is more exciting, funny and emotionally engaging than anything in the last James Bond movie.
The cast and crew that made the original work so well have pulled off the impossible again. Paddington 2 is an absolute delight; an utterly charming storybook adventure that’s as sweet and gooey as marmalade, a confident and assured family classic and every bit as good – if not better – than the first.