Three years ago BAFTA-nominated writer/director Paul King and Oscar-nominated Producer David Heyman created a critically acclaimed unexpected hit, bringing Michael Bond’s Paddington Bear to the silver screen in a brilliant mix of live action and CGI animation. One of the most beloved characters in children’s literature and an absolute icon in British pop culture, the adorable little bear from darkest Peru – who journeys to London to start a new life and gets adopted by the Brown family – won us over with a perfect mix of heartwarming, feel-good storytelling peppered with lots of laugh-out-loud moments.
Sequels are always tough beasts to tackle and especially when the first film was as successful as Paddington, making a worthy follow up can become a daunting task. Yet the filmmaking team behind the marmalade-loving bear’s cinematic version actually surpasses all expectations, delivering a sequel that’s even better than the original. A delightful and hilarious tale, Paddington 2 is a perfect family film, the feel-good movie of the year, much needed in such dreary times.
This follow up’s greatest achievement is the ability to build upon its predecessor and capitalize on it, telling a story that’s bigger in scope and scale yet finding its greatest strengths in character development and thematic poignancy, never talking down to children and equally pleasing adults. And of course it’s no surprise that David Heyman, who produced the entire Harry Potter series, is behind another successful film franchise adapted from popular children’s literature.
Paddington 2 finds the overly polite bear now living in Windsor Gardens, fully integrated within the Brown family. Yet, despite being happy with his new life, he misses Aunt Lucy, who lives in a retirement home back in Peru (uncle Pastuzo had died in an accident at the beginning of the first film, which propelled Paddington’s move to London). Aunt Lucy has always wanted to visit London but her advanced age has gotten in the way, so Paddington wants to send her something really special for her upcoming birthday. He finds the perfect gift in Mr. Gruber’s antique shop: a one-of-a-kind pop up book that takes you through all the London landmarks. Lacking the finances to afford the rare item, our resourceful bear gets himself out in the job market. And if you’re familiar with Paddington’s clumsy ways, then you can anticipate the kind of hilarious disasters he’ll get himself into, despite his good intentions.
That’s exactly what makes this beloved character’s adventures irresistible: Paddington’s kind-hearted naivety always gets him in trouble, yet the same quality gets him out of it in extremely entertaining and heartwarming fashion. This time around trouble comes in the form of Hugh Grant, whose recent career renaissance gets a big boost with this pitch-perfect villainous role. He plays Phoenix Buchanan, a washed up theatre actor hopelessly in love with himself and desperately trying to revive his career and his bank account by creating a one-man show that brings to the stage all of his most famous characters.
When Phoenix finds out about the pop-up book, he orchestrates a plan to steal it. The rare item in fact contains the clues to find a hidden treasure, which would solve his financial problems. However, being caught in the act by Paddington, the hilariously narcissistic villain frames the poor bear for the crime and sends him to prison. The Browns of course don’t believe for a second their furry friend could possibly be guilty and so, whilst Phoenix engages in his treasure hunt, they start their own private investigation to prove the bear’s innocence. The two operations are obviously bound to collide and with hysterically funny results.
There’s a lot of fun to be found in jail too, as Paddington gets tangled up with prison chef Knuckles McGinty, played by the brilliant Brendan Gleeson. Like Grant, he’s one of the new inspired additions to an already fantastic cast, which includes the cream of the crop of British talent like Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi and Imelda Staunton as the voice of Aunt Lucy. Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins once again shine as the Browns with incredible chemistry, perfectly in tune with both the heartfelt moments and the humorous ones. Whilst Ben Wishaw continues to capture the essence of the illustrious protagonist with great sensibility, making Paddington truly alive with his remarkable voice work.
The scene-stealer however is undoubtedly Hugh Grant – his flamboyant, self-referential villain is a joy to watch and his closing credits musical number alone is worth the price of admission and a spinoff maybe? The filmmakers have surely taken things to the next level, concocting an adorable and hilarious tale that late author Michael Bond would be proud of. Their cinematic adaptation continues to do justice to the source material and honour the legacy of the iconic character he has created. Paddington 2 is an outstanding sequel, which gloriously captures the quintessential beauty of the city of London and all things British with visual inventiveness, seamless VFX work by Framestore, delightful characters and a heart so big it pops out of the screen.
Paddington 2 is out now in UK cinemas.
Words by Francesco Cerniglia