There’s no end of trouble a little brown bear from deepest, darkest Peru can get into when let loose on the streets of London.
In his second big-screen adventure, Paddington makes new friends. Paddington gets a job. Paddington perfects his marmalade recipe. Paddington rides an Irish wolfhound. Paddington … goes to prison?
Yes, one of the year’s – possibly decade’s, time will tell – cutest and cuddliest children’s films sends its protagonist to prison for grand larceny. But leave it to Paddington to make a stint in the clink so utterly charming.
“Paddington 2” improves on its 2014 predecessor, both in story and in style. With Paddington’s origin story off the filmmakers’ backs, adventure gets more room to unfold. There are slapstick hijinks and silly scenarios aplenty, but at its heart “Paddington 2” has something serious to say about making the world a better place through daily acts of kindness. With a decidedly British stiff upper lip in the face of disaster, Paddington insists, “If you’re kind and polite, the world will be right.”
The sequel also gets a stronger villain in High Grant’s delightfully daft and dastardly Phoenix Buchanan, an aging thespian who has hung up Yorick’s skull and given up Hamlet for dog food commercials. The artistic demotion is a blow to his (considerable) vanity. Desperate again for fame and riches, he’ll stoop to anything to reclaim his glory days – even framing a bear for the theft of an antique pop-up book.
Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) had his eye on that pop-up book, you see. The lovingly detailed tome takes the reader on a 3-D tour of London – the perfect birthday gift for Paddington’s Anglophile Aunt Lucy, on the verge of turning 100 at the home for retired bears. She can’t make it to London, so Paddington hopes to bring London to her. Only the rare book comes at a price too steep for your average marmalade-scarfing bear.
Determined to secure the book for his Aunt Lucy’s birthday, Paddington takes up a series of odd jobs (including a disastrous turn at a barbershop) before happening upon an ingenious, furry approach to window washing, and squirrels away his pounds for the big purchase.
Phoenix knows something that Paddington doesn’t, though. The pop-up book isn’t just a pop-up book: It’s a secret treasure map.
Every character, big and small, glitters with flair: effervescent Sally Hawkins and high-strung Hugh Bonneville as Paddington’s adoptive parents; Jim Broadbent as the curiously accented antique shop owner; Peter Capaldi as the neighborhood-watch busybody; Brendan Gleeson as the snarling prison cook with no culinary skills. And then there’s Grant, who, appropriate to his character, steals the spotlight, mugging to the rafters in an increasingly silly procession of costumes straight through to a winning musical number in the credits.
The actors are having a ball. So, too, is director Paul King, who is more confident and playful with his visual style on this adventure. Paddington’s prison stay is positively whimsical, cheery with pastel pink uniforms and bright orange vats of marmalade, recalling the twee visual hallmarks of Wes Anderson. A tour through the pop-up book turns literal, animating London into a 3-D-looking children’s book.
“Paddington 2” is a winsome confection. More than just a movie, it’s a necessary mood corrective, a temporary escape hatch from negativity. The world does indeed feel right in the company of this kind and polite little bear.
Barbara VanDenburgh, USA TODAY Network
Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film directed by Paul King and written by King and Simon Farnaby, based on the books by Michael Bond. Rated PG (for some action and mild rude humor). Running time: 103 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.