It’s quite comforting to know that in this world we live in where every sequel seems to feature more CGI, more attempts at shared cinematic universes and generally “more bang for your buck”, the Paddington franchise is contempt with keeping things exactly the same and very simple.
And what could be more simple than Paddington’s story this time around? Our softly spoken Bear, voiced to perfection by Ben Whishaw, needs to earn some money so he can buy his Aunt Lucy a pop book of London for her hundredth birthday. A successful window cleaning business ensures that he is one day away from buying the present but before he has the chance, it is stolen leaving poor Paddington to take the fall.
Produced by David Heyman (a man who knows a little bit about producing excellent family films having done all eight of the Harry Potter films) and directed by a returning Paul King, the modus operandi seems to be “bring back the heart and soul of the first one with added marmalade”.
The British ensemble cast is all back including multi-cultured, super friendly London, where the only truly dastardly character within a hundred miles of our loveable bear is Phoenix Buchanan, played with over the top delight by an excellent Hugh Grant.
It’s a London where every face is a star of British film (although sometimes the actor is playing it German for reasons unknown – take a stand Jim Broadbent), where everyone accepts and loves our titular talking bear, an outsider greatly enjoying the eccentricities of our capital. It’s a city where even the most hardened, feared characters can be melted down by a sweet-natured bear and his great sarnies all the while accompanied by a wonderful calypso soundtrack.
This is much to director Paul King’s credit, who shoots London beautifully and isn’t afraid to harken back to a time of funfairs and steam trains that at the same time combining it with modern monuments such as The Shard. Paddington 2 will be the only film this year which will have a teenager printing her own newspaper using victorian methods whilst her sibling rocks a T-Shirt with an LCD screen. It’s an odd little London but one that is so fun to spend the duration of the film in.
But what of the film’s big bad? As the forgotten actor who now only does dog food commercials (the shame!), Hugh Grant dials it up to eleven and then some. He comes across as a camp Dick Van Dyke and the scene which sees Phoenix Buchanan interacts with costumes from his greatest performances is a particular joy. He is pure pantomime and it’s clear he’s enjoying every second of it.
(Advice – Stick around for the Mid Credits Scene which sees Grant do his own version of La La Land).
If there is a rival to how much fun Grant is having in his role, then it has to be Brendan Gleeson as Nuckles McGinty (that’s not a typo) who appears as the inmate in charge of the canteen. The kitchen scenes between him and Paddington are delightful in which the bear has to use all his charm to melt the hard man’s heart.
It’s the prison scenes where the film takes a Wes Anderson turn and might have been influenced by a certain movie about a Grand Hotel in Budapest. But King directs with such confidence that it never feels out of place or disjointed. Instead, it’s hilarious, sweet and sad all at once, ensuring that there shouldn’t be a dry eye in the cinema.
But where Paddington 2 succeeds most is at its heart and it’s messaging. Paddington teaches us that if you want something, you have to work for it, that manners cost nothing and to look for the good in everyone because you might just see it. They are all lessons that feel so at home in an adaptation of a set of children’s books but have seemingly been forgotten in this day and age.
The film never talks down to its audience or tries to be more complex than it is. Yes, it will be classed as a children’s film but the jokes are not aimed at the young with “secret jokes” for any accompanying adults. Its humour can be found in its physical comedy, clever visual gags and the naivety of our leading bear as he tries to understand our often confusing and troubled world.
There are scenes here such as the barber shop scene and the film’s climax which wouldn’t look out of place being performed by Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin. Its humour is often Norman Wisdom like and that’s just another of the film’s strengths, it reminds us of a more innocent time at the movies.
As we head into winter, it’s nice to know there is such warmth to be found at the cinema. Paddington 2 hits the spot with marmalade covered sweetness. In short, it is pretty special and if you don’t find yourself moved by Paddington and his enduring escapades, then you need to have a long “hard stare” in the mirror.