What a joy it is to be alive and live to see another exceptional cinematic outing for Paddington Bear. Painted in pastel bright colouring, and overflowing with the heartfelt charm of its predecessor, Paddington 2 is a pure delight. Here are boundless layers of family fun, each one lavishly spread with the finest homemade marmalade.
Opening, once again, in deepest darkest Peru, the sequel’s first point of call is a time ‘a few bear years ago’ and sees the moment in which Aunt Lucy and Uncle Pastuzo (Imelda Staunton and Michael Gambon) put there dreams of visiting London on hold to raise a lost, young cub they rescued from dangerous waters: ‘He’s rather small, rather sneezy, but he likes his marmalade’. It’s an instantly winning sequence, akin to Up even, wringing out emotions that most family fare manage only in their final act. As fans of Paul King’s 2014 smash hit Paddington know (and there are legions of them), this bear-to-be will later wind up on a platform in a London train station, before being adopted by the Brown family.
In the years since the first film, Paddington has not simply transformed the lives of Henry (Hugh Bonneville in ‘full blown midlife crisis’), Mary (Sally Hawkins), Judy (Madeline Harris) and Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) – not to forget Julie Walters’ housekeeper Mrs Bird – but has enabled a blossoming among the entire local community. If last time, King and co-writer Simon Farnaby (Who reprises his security guard role here too)’planted a timely celebration of immigration, its successor hails the importance of unification among all peoples of all races and, indeed, species. Paddington is also a cheerleader of kindness; for, as Aunt Lucy says: ‘When we’re kind and polite, the world will be right’. That being just one of many life lessons passed down from his beloved Aunt, the new film sees Paddington set out to find the perfect present for Lucy’s one hundredth Birthday. When his choice – a unique pop-up book of London – however is stolen from Mr Gruber’s Antique Shop, Paddington finds himself arrested as the prime suspect, leaving the Brown’s to clear his name and catch the true thief.
Voicing Paddington, Ben Whishaw is so perfect a choice that it seems incongruent that it was almost not so, with Colin Firth the original pick. Combining the innocence and good-heated aural presence of the bear with continually outstanding CGI, Paddington is one of the most three-dimensionally investable characters of any medium this year. In the live-dimension, meanwhile, the film’s orbital humans certainly do not let the side down; Hawkins being a particular standout. Joining the ensemble, second time around, Brendan Gleeson’s walk alone, in the role of Knuckles McGinty (with a capital ‘n’) is priceless, whilst a career-best Hugh Grant very nearly steals the entire show. Playing narcissistic, has-been, actor Phoenix Buchanan (now reduced to dog food advertising), Grant gives an elevated performance of comic capability in such a way he has not since Four Weddings and a Funeral. Revelling in opportunity to don fancy dress – his Magwitch overshadowed by a dazzling performance in nun’s regalia (‘a nun went berserk…it happens’) – his is a showcase that proves divine to behold. Only a film as strong as this would be capable of not faltering in scenes in which he does not appear.
Likewise, too few modern films pull off slapstick with the panache achieved in Paddington 2. Window cleaning and laundry skits are mined for all their Chaplin-via-Laurel and Hardy classic potential, feeling fresh in spite of more than a century of precedent; part of the joy here is knowing what is about to happen and watching as the mayhem unfolds. What makes this work is that the film has clearly not a bad bone in its body; we don’t laugh at characters who wind up with a bucket of water landing on their head but, crucially, with.
Paddington 2 is not better than its predecessor because you cannot better perfection. Remarkably, however, the sequel is exactly on the same level. It is a film that not only uplifts your life but fills you too with a heady passion to push for more; to be a better human being and to be a kinder one. Magic has never been so endearing nor polite.