How can you not love Paddington Bear, or at the very least feel a strong sense of like for the little guy? The bear cub (again voiced by Ben Whishaw) in the raincoat and red hat is back with a follow-up to the 2014 surprise titular hit. And the series’ second installment, Paddington 2, seems to have attracted as many high-profile British actors as the Harry Potter movies.
This time around, we get a little bit more backstory about Paddington being found floating down a dangerous river by his Aunt Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton) and Uncle Pastuzo (Michael Gambon). Rather than take their own much-desired vacation to London, they send their adopted bear instead, and as we know from the first film, he falls in with a lovely family named the Browns—mother Mary (Sally Hawkins), father Henry (Hugh Bonneville) and kids Judy and Jonathan (Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin, respectively). As this second chapter begins, it’s clear he has settled in rather nicely.
Again directed by Paul King (a veteran of “The Mighty Boosh” TV series), Paddington 2 returns to the Windsor Gardens community where Paddington has been accepted by all who live there, save nosy neighborhood watch “officer” Mr. Curry (Peter Capaldi). Paddington’s mission this time is to seek out the perfect gift for his aunt’s 100th birthday. So he runs down to the local antique shop (run by Jim Broadbent’s Mr. Gruber) and finds a quite-old pop-up book detailing the many sights of London. It just so happens that there’s a celebration happening in Windsor Gardens to honor the woman who made the book and elevated the town’s profile many decades earlier. On the celebration’s opening night, a local celebrity, the actor Phoenix Buchanan (a gleefully weird Hugh Grant), is on hand to open the fairgrounds.
Paddington wants that book, but its high price mean he has to engage in a series of odd jobs to save money to buy it. But while he’s busy collecting coins, the book is stolen. Soon, Paddington is the key suspect since everybody knew how much he wanted it and the actual, unknown suspect may have framed the bear. While Paddington lands himself in jail, the Browns and the rest of the neighborhood try to discover the identity of the thief (who may be aware that the book has clues in it that lead to the original owner’s treasure) and get the book back. That’s right, folks. Paddington 2 is, among other things, a prison movie.
The half of the film concerning the Browns’ investigation isn’t particularly interesting, especially since it’s never really a mystery who the true thief is. But I’ll admit, it’s strange seeing Hawkins in a breezy part like this after catching her in such atmospheric and moody treasures last year as The Shape of Water and Maudie. Still, there’s very little these fine actors can do to energize a fairly standard-issue caper plot.
Far more successful is Paddington’s time in prison, which includes a handful of great cameo appearances of actors playing prisoners, including a more fleshed-out appearance by Brendan Gleeson as Knuckles McGinty, the temperamental prison cook, whom Paddington befriends and even helps with making meals a tastier experience for all. Sure, he’s playing it broad and big, but Gleeson still plays Knuckles as a complete maniac, and he’s quite funny to boot.
Paddington continues to be a bit of a klutz and sometimes takes things people say too seriously to the point of misunderstanding them, but in the end, he’s a sweet kid (bear?) who just wants to do something nice for his aunt. Look for appearances by the likes of Julie Walters and Tom Conti, who flesh out this star-studded family affair. The real surprise in Paddington 2 is Hugh Grant playing a snooty actor who sees himself as an artiste when in fact he hasn’t had a memorable role in decades outside of a cat food commercial. As much as I’ve ever seen him do it, Grant appears to be cutting loose, wearing crazy costumes and disguises for nefarious purposes. While watching him, I sat there agog thinking “That’s not my Hugh Grant…but I like it.”
Paddington 2 is harmless, PG-rated stuff that made me laugh quite a few times, especially at some of the bear’s physical comedy. The way the CG Paddington is integrated with the human characters is damn near seamless, to the point where I stopped looking for any technical flaws. It just works. The film will put a big grin on your face, even if you don’t find it laugh-out-loud funny. As tedious as they can be, sometimes watching movies about good people helping each other makes a world of difference.