Director: Paul King
Cast: Ben Whishaw, Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, Hugh Grant
Watch Paddington 2 online in the UK: iTunes / Amazon Instant Video / TalkTalk TV / Virgin Movies / eir Vision Movies / Rakuten TV / Google Play
From its first picture released of a CGI bear, the very suggestion of a modern Paddington movie seemed like a terrible idea. Then, the film arrived and all was right with the world. Crafted with care, warmth and a huge dose of affection for the original books, it was a perfect antidote to the harsh intolerance of the real world. But Paddington 2? Surely, the people behind the movie couldn’t pull off the same trick twice? This sequel surprises all over again – because it doesn’t just do it again. It goes one better.
Ben Whishaw once again voices the eponymous bear, a migrant from deepest darkest Peru who finds a home and shelter with the Brown family (led with effortless sincerity by Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins). Feeling homesick, though, he yearns to buy a special pop-up book he spies in a store for his Aunt Lucy, so that she can see London in all its multicultural glory. But there’s one person in his way: the wonderfully named Phoenix Buchanan, a washed-up actor who wants the book for his own, greedy ends.
It’s testament to just how superb Paddington is that we’ve long forgotten our hero is a digital creation: at all times in this sequel you could swear an actual bear is walking around London and trying to do good. From Whishaw’s voice to the way the cast interact with Paddington, it’s a masterclass in cutting-edge filmmaking. It’s given added panache by Paul King’s gorgeous visuals, which bring to life pop-up books and steam contraptions with a delightfully low-fi style that masks a director at the peak of his powers. (Ever since Bunny and the Bull, King has announced himself as Britain’s answer to Michel Gondry, and it’s a joy to see him given such a big sandbox to play with.)
It says a lot, then, that King and Whishaw’s show is almost entirely stolen by Hugh Grant, whose deliciously hammy performance as a showbiz luvvy with an endless array of costumes is one of the best things you’ll see this year. His self-parody and astonishing diversity firmly establish him as a national treasure, while his impeccable comic timing perfectly complements Paddington’s knack for slapstick – the film manages to make its virtual protagonist not only feel tangible, but also a hilariously clumsy physical presence, as he stumbles through dangerous set pieces like a furry Buster Keaton.
Along the way, Paddington comes across all manner of delightful cameos, from Brendan Gleeson as a grouchy chef to Murder in Successville’s Tom Davis as an intimidating prisoner, which ensure that the laughter count never falls below side-splitting. And yet King’s script, co-written with Simon Farnaby – after Horrible Histories, Bill and Yonderland, this cements him as one of Britain’s best family comedy talents – still finds time to touch upon such issues as abandonment, death and sadness without ever becoming too dark or downbeat. You’ll cry, but you’ll also laugh and fall in love with Hugh Grant.
The result is an accomplished piece of cinema that is meticulously pieced together, yet never loses the sticky, marmalade-covered edges that made the first film so fuzzy and charming. Paddington came along at a time when the world needed a reminder of the importance of welcoming foreigners to the UK’s shores. Paddington 2’s positive, heartwarming message of loyalty and support encourages us to pass that kindness on. Michael Bond once told us to look after this bear. Paddington 2 asks us to look after each other. What an utter joy of a film.