Paddington (voice of Ben Whishaw) is happily living with the Browns and working an assortment of odd jobs in order to buy his beloved Aunt Lucy a gift for her 100th birthday. But when the pop-up book he has his heart set on is stolen from Mr. Gruber’s (Jim Broadbent) antique shop, it's up to the bear and his human family to find the thief in "Paddington 2."
The rare occurrence of a sequel besting its predecessor, this thoroughly charming film kept a smile plastered across my face from start to finish. Featuring a grand adventure tied to London landmarks and a hilariously vainglorious performance from Hugh Grant (which just earned him a BAFTA nomination), "Paddington 2" ups the ante for the little bear whose best intentions don't always work out as he plans.
Cowriter (with Simon Farnaby and Michael Bond)/director Paul King goes a little further back for this film's prologue, illustrating how as a cub Paddington was saved from a horrible fate by his beloved Aunt Lucy (voice of Imelda Staunton), whose adoption of the little bear curbed her and Pastuzo's (voice of Michael Gambon) London retirement plans. When Paddington finds the handmade, three-dimensional representation of his new home city, he feels he can gift his aunt with the trip she never made.
Paddington is beloved in Windsor Gardens where every resident (save Peter Capaldi's Mr. Curry) is grateful for the bear's big heart. Without Paddington, absent minded Dr. Jafri (Sanjeev Bhaskar) would be perpetually locked out of his house and lonely Miss Kitts (Jessica Hynes, "Shaun of the Dead"), the newsagent, would never have met the Colonel (Ben Miller). Still, the Peruvian bear has a habit of getting into trouble. When his first boss, Mr. Giuseppe, steps out of his barber shop for a moment, Paddington's misadventure with electric clippers has dire consequences for a customer's hair. Attending Madame Kazlova's (Dame Eileen Atkins) Steam Fair opening with the Browns, Paddington is invited onto the stage by their neighbor, former West End acting sensation Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), where his innocent remarks deflate the actor's ego much to the crowd's delight. Paddington also mentions the pop-up book, it having been made by the original Kazlova, and Buchanan is all ears, learning its location from the trusting bear.
One night, as Paddington's admiring his soon-to-be-purchase in Gruber's window, he hears a break-in. The bear chases the thief through the shop, mounting a dog to give chase, but the long-haired thief literally vanishes in a puff of smoke, along with the pop-up book, just as the police arrive. They arrest the only suspect present, much to the Browns' dismay. In court, Paddington gets a further setback when the Judge (Tom Conti) turns out to be none other than his unfortunate barbershop customer.
The film really takes off from here as Paddington learns there are no bedtime stories in prison and seduces its much-feared slop cook, Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson), with marmalade. The entire prison sequence, with its striped uniforms, bakery makeover and artfully filmed escape, is one big homage to the "Grand Budapest Hotel." (There are movie references galore here, from "The Lone Ranger" and "It's a Wonderful Life" to the silents of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton) It is Mary Brown (Sally Hawkins), here more than ever the human equivalent of Aunt Lucy, who deduces that the pop-up book is a treasure map and that the multiple strange sightings at Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Serpentine in Hyde Park are one man in disguise. An elaborate ruse run by Judy (Madeleine Harris) and Jonathan Brown (Samuel Joslin) utilizing Buchanan's agent Felicity Fanshawe (Joanna Lumley) allow Mary and Henry Brown (Hugh Bonneville) to confirm her suspicions and the entire family, along with housekeeper Mrs. Bird (Julie Walters), mount a rescue attempt aboard two steam engine trains.
King isn't content to simply tell a marvelous tale. His film is full of magical transitions, such as a flight of fancy where Paddington steps into the pop-up book to show his aunt the sights or where his nighttime prison tears sprout a jungle dream. Paddington himself is a marvel of effects and Whishaw's gently gruff voicing. The 5-piece Calypso band of the first film reappears in the most unlikely places. The cast is marvelous, Hawkins all radiant heart (reprising the underwater prowess exhibited in "The Shape of Water"), Bonneville goofy charm. As the underhanded ham, Grant is perfection in all his incarnations (including a 'beautiful' nun!). Stay through the end credits for his gloriously camp prison musical number. Portobello Prison gives us "Dr. Strange's" Kobna Holdbrook-Smith as the unconventional Warden Walker and "Prevenge's" Tom Davis, Noah Taylor and Aaron Neil ("The Promise") as McGinty's coconspirators T-Bone, Phibs and Spoon.
The production wears its heart on its sleeve with its nostalgic view of London and the whimsical charms of the Brown brownstone. As in the first film, costume designer Lindy Hemming works magic with Mary's colorful tights, British tweeds and retro footwear while also spinning wild disguises for Grant who also sports a leisure outfit marking him for the self important twit he is. There are a couple of effects wobbles, most notably during the speeding train climax, but that's a mere quibble, especially given Paddington himself and Gruber's 'popping' book brought to life. "Paddington 2" is something to cherish.
When we last saw our diminutive Peruvian brown bear, he had settled in with the kindly Brown family and found a home in London – and lots of marmalade sandwiches. Now, his beloved Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday is fast approaching and he must find her the ideal gift. He goes to Mr. Gruber’s (Jim Broadbent) antique shop and sees a one of a kind pop up book that is perfect, only to have it stolen in “Paddington 2.”
I am, by and large, not partial to sequels. In almost all sequels, from “Shrek” to “Despicable Me,” they are a case of diminishing returns, capitalizing on the popularity of the original but, generally, only giving more of the same. This is not what happens with “Paddington 2,” a sequel that stands on its own with the familiar, the Brown family and the neighbors in Winsor Gardens, and a slew of new characters, predicaments and adventures.
When Paddington finds the unique book, Mr. Gruber tells him that it is very expensive. Our little bruin decides that he must have the special book for Aunt Lucy and sets out to earn the money to buy it. This leads to a series of very entertaining hi-jinks as the imaginative Paddington tackles the money problem with gusto.
I had such a good time watching “Paddington 2” that I do not want to give any of the charming story away. The viewers and fans deserve to have the funny and imaginative bear’s tale unfold afresh. I will just say that everyone involved in the making of this wonderful little fantasy story give their all and the result is magical. After seeing it, a 10-year old and I discussed our favorite, funny parts of the movie. Talk about a movie that spans generations of fans. I give it an A-.
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