Many adults were pleasantly surprised when 2014’s live-action adaptation of "Paddington" turned out to be watchable. Given that most of the animated properties of our past that are revamped into live action/animation hybrids (ala "Smurfs,” “Garfield,” “Chipmunks") are usually mind-numbingly obnoxious, the warmth and wit of Paul King’s "Paddington" films have become a healthy change in the kid-vid diet. “Paddington 2” manages to improve on the previous entry by grounding the visual gags more effectively in storytelling while also managing to be even more ambitious when it comes to its many Rube Goldberg-esque action sequences.
Here King and his co-writer Simon Farnaby simplify the plot by focusing on a few tangible goals for the characters. Paddington (voiced by Ben Wishaw) wants to buy an antique pop-up book about London for his dear aunt Lucy who’s still living as a cultured bear in Peru. Things go wrong when our cuddly protagonist is framed for the robbery of the book by an actor/vaudevillian/magician named Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), who happens lives down the street from Paddington’s adopted family. After the polite and naive bear is sent to prison, he has to convince his family to prove his innocents while also doing his best to make friends with the other hardened inmates.
Paddington is a believable character because the animation that brings him to life is surrounded by terrific actors who are as naturally animated in their expressions. Irish tough-guy Brendan Gleeson as the prison chef Knuckles pulls faces in the camera that shouldn’t work as broadly applied as they are, but somehow they do. Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins are given more to do in the plot this time other than arguing whether or not they want to keep a clumsy bear in their attic, and by giving them more proactive roles they have more weight in the plot. Grant as the vein and foppish villain is camping it up with zero abandon, but King’s control of the movie's tone keeps every wild gesture and zippy one-liner contained in the context of our hero’s journey.
This installment of weaves together the title character’s mission through a series of creative and wildly visual set-pieces, such as the robbery of the antique store, a window washing montage and the many exploits of Hugh Grant’s master-of-disguise sleuthing. The film also indulges many beautiful sequences that imagines Paddington’s London as a flipbook come to life. This is 3D cinema accomplished without the need for the annoying glasses and these sequences successfully welds together the CGI character with his modern, live-action environments. There are a few set-pieces that register as stock or somewhat familiar, such as a prison escape sequence that involves a laundry hamper and a final battle on a steam train. Neither of these scenes is executed poorly, though they lean into their clichés rather than subverting them. But hey, this is a picture about a talking bear that’s obsessed orange marmalade, so…
King obviously has a vision for this silly franchise and his ear for dry comedic dialogue, combined with a creative visual sense and big heart for his characters elevates this experience beyond its base expectations as an electric babysitter. It’s only a shame that content geared towards children has become so dumbed down and so cynical that a movie as effortlessly positive and crowd-pleasing as "Paddington 2" has become the exception to the rule.
Originally Published in the Idaho State Journal/Jan-2018