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Paddington 2
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by Jay Seaver

"Still a wonderful little bear."
5 stars

"Paddington 2" couldn't quite sneak up on me the way the first did - its American trailer spent most of its time on the closest thing the movie has to a gross-out gag, only for the film to later reveal itself as witty and big-hearted - especially since the folks in the UK have been much more vocal about what a lovely film Paul King has made the second time around. That's okay. Knowing to expect its very British brilliance actually makes it no less delightful.

After the previous film's origin story, this one picks up with Paddington (voice of Ben Whishaw), a small orphaned bear who came to London from Peru and was named for the train station where he was found, quite settled in with the Brown family, although each of them is experiencing some of their own growing pains. He still writes to his Aunt Lucy (voice of Imelda Staunton), and wishes to send her an extra-special present for her upcoming hundredth birthday. He lays eyes on a vintage pop-up book of London in a local antique shop, but it's terribly expensive, leading him to work various odd jobs to try to raise the money. He has almost managed it when he sees someone burgling the shop, but he winds up sent to jail for the crime. While the Brown family (Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, Madeleine Harris, Samuel Joslin & Julie Walters) follow the trail of clues leading to out-of-work actor - and master of disguise - Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), the irrepressible bear makes friends in the jail, including quick-tempered cook Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson).

There is really no end to the utter delight found in these films, which co-writer and director King fills with joyous, gentle slapstick and absurdity. It is far too British and polite to actually wink at the audience, but King knows just exactly how to create a tone that plays to kids and also lets adults have fun with how knowingly silly the movie is. And it's wonderfully silly and traditional, with a pop-up book that becomes a treasure map, kids with charmingly analog (and useful) hobbies, a sense that being polite and kind can do wonders. It's a film full of layers, with jokes just hidden enough that kids will be delighted to find them (pay attention to every headline in McGinty's newspaper), colorful adventure, and more well-earned emotion than one would think could possibly come from an animated bear. It is utterly earnest and aware that this can be a rare thing, and never so serious about that as it could be. It will get a joke or two out of how broadly adults can see it being played, but King and co-writer Simon Farnaby never look down or make fun.

It's no small thing to handle this so well; there are dozens of little sight gags throughout the movie that take the exact right amount of time to be simply funny to a four-year-old and clever to their parents. Paddington himself is a good enough effect to be be basically invisible, which is a testament both to the folks rendering the digital images and the folks on set who find the funniest, most natural ways for him to interact with the environment. Everybody involved seems to get this little bear extremely well, whether he's wordlessly fretting over the idea that the Browns may have forgotten him or Ben Whishaw putting just the right sort of gracious politeness, joy of discovery, and curiosity at some of the peculiar ways humans act into every line.

Whishaw's voice work is far from the only very enjoyable performance in the film; the Paddington children's books are beloved, and it seems like nearly every actor in the UK both wanted to be part of these movies and felt an obligation to do right by them. The entire Brown family returns, and they're still impeccably cast, from Hugh Bonneville's skittish but loyal father and Sally Hawkins as the free-spirited but protective mom to Samuel Joslin and Madeleine Harris carving out kids having growing pains without making Jonathan and Judy abrasive at all (Joslin gets one of the movie's funniest moments as he shows that owning one's nerdiness makes it cool). There are fun spots by Peter Capaldi, Richard Ayoade, Jim Broadbent and a host of others, with the great Brendan Gleeson a perfect knuckles. Hugh Grant, though, is the one who steals every scene he's in with extraordinarily well-mannered, silky insanity. He's a glorious villain, less sinister than Nicole Kidman was in the first but still finding a way to make Buchanan theatrical and far-out even in a movie that's already putting the audience within a children's book without actually skewering the deliberately level tone.

Indeed, as much as the Brits making this movie clearly love Paddington, one gets the sense that Paddington-the-film-series loves them right back. Where Kidman's taxidermist was an impressively subversive villain (she invited the audience to look at British history and acknowledge that there were things in it that they had outgrown); Grant's Buchanan is simpler; a character lays out what makes him troublesome in one or two sentences and it's something kids can apply to the rest of the characters and take to heart for themselves. But that simplicity is not a bad thing, nor is the clear affection shown for the London setting and the British politeness that is far more often the butt of jokes or an obstacle than what it is here - a way for people to connect and get along in spite of any differences they may have.

Yes, "Paddington 2" is a very British family movie, which may be why those of us in America had to wait a couple extra months and then breathe a sigh of relief when it was liberated from a scandal-ridden distributor; its rambunctiousness is a bit more restrained and precise. But it's also utterly genuine, simple enough to play to kids and witty enough for their parents - or, indeed, for adults who don't have kids - and able to be both without particularly finding them in conflict.

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originally posted: 01/13/18 11:19:33
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User Comments

1/14/18 ActionMovieFan Atrocious trash and totally unwatchable. 1 stars
1/14/18 Bob Dog A brand new all-time classic movie - Paddington 2 is fantastic! 5 stars
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