It’s fair to state that the pool of family oriented fare is rather saturated. Every year theaters are subjected to the same offerings, from the same studios, often with the same results. A Pixar or Disney effort will probably walk away with both the box office and award accolades, as a small handful of efforts try to turn a profit. But then, in saunters Paddington 2, full of confidence, bravado and a healthy dose of optimism, tucked lovingly in the front pocket of its signature blue duffle coat.
For those unaware, a pervading sense of “oh no, another children’s book adaptation” rang out before for the initial film’s release. Much to most’s surprise it became an unlikely hit with both audiences and critics. The sequel, against insurmountable odds, trumps it. Handily so. It qwould be easy to write a proposed sequel off simply as “more of the same”, yet the focus is sharpened so well, it will likely turn even the biggest detractors. This is just good solid film-making, elevated to a insanely level of giddy fun.Picking up some time after the previous film, Paddington (impeccably voiced by Ben Whishaw) has settled into a nice cozy life with the Browns. He’s even managed to become an important fixture in the small corner of London he calls home. With a positive attitude, he enriches everyone who crosses his path each morning. Save for crotchety Mr. Curry (an underutilized Peter Capaldi), who has started an underground neighborhood watch group.
Not all is peachy for young Paddington, as he dearly misses his Aunt Lucy, whose 100th birthday is quickly approaching. Enlisting the help of Mr. Gruber (Jim Broadbent), he finds a rare pop-upbook, which he believes is the perfect gift. Short of funds, he undertakes a series of odd jobs. On the way home one night, he stops in front of the storefront that houses the book, only to witness it being robbed. Through a case of mistaken identity, the innocent cub ends up in prison. His only hope is that the Browns can solve who the real culprit is, before a life behind bars gets the better of him.
It’s a fairly simple and concise plot. The real pleasure comes in the various ways it spider-webs out for the character’s journey. Each cast member has their own minor crises to manage. Mrs. Brown (Sally Hawkins) craves a real adventure. Mr. Brown (Hugh Bonneville) suffers from middle-aged doldrums. Prison chef Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson) can’t cook to save his life. Impressively they all tie into the larger story with the greatest of ease.Production-wise Paddington 2 is beautiful to behold. A film like as this shouldn’t work, let alone be this winsome. Existing somehow as a cross between The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Muppets and Amelie, there’s something for everyone. Success can be placed almost entirely at the feet of returning direct Paul King. Not only able to deftly juggle the absurd wandering into everyday life, King makes tired old set pieces seem fresh. Also helping matters is astutely game cast, who buy in entirely to the world around them.
Like the Harry Potter series before it (also produced by David Heyman), Paddington 2 features a veritable “who’s who” of British Royal talent, even if it’s just for one scene or one line. While there is the sense that everyone on the production was having a ball, two key additions are what help this entry standout. That being the inclusion of Gleeson and Hugh Grant.
Gleeson’s McGinty is another play on the “tough guy with a soft interior” part he can do in his sleep. Being a giant teddy bear himself, the performance comes off delightfully earnest. The other contribution, though, is entirely a different matter altogether.For some it may sound silly to label this as Grant’s best performance. Still, there’s an energy behind those sparkling blue eyes that hasn’t been tapped into for some time, quite how it is here. The secret comes in how the film handles his daffy villain. As much as it’s a movie that is about Paddington, it belongs to his former star actor/thief Phoenix Buchanan. That’s because what these films embraces above all else is an individual’s humanity. A bad guy is never a bad guy for want of violence, but a misguided desire for attention or to fix a blighted lineage.
If, for some terrible reason anyone should come across an individual who does NOT succumb to the whimsy and joy that is contained inside Paddington 2, take pity upon them. To deny the simple pleasures on display is the worst possible way to start a new year. For everyone else, it’s a movie simply not to be missed. One that’s likely to leave everyone who exits the theater with a giant grin, as sweet as marmalade itself.