UK (2017) Dir. Paul King
When Michael Bond’s perennial children’s book creation and one time animated TV show received a 21st century big screen upgrade in 2014 there were many doubters, including yours truly, but the film was actually very good and tremendous fun. A sequel was inevitable in the wake of its success but as ever, the pressure to deliver a worthy follow-up is always going to loom heavy over the producers.
Luckily, lightning has struck twice for director Paul King and his crew as this sequel is not just equally as charming as the first film but a real laugh-out-loud hoot as well. The titular Peruvian bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw), now settled in with the Brown family and his many friends in Windsor Gardens, wants to get a special birthday present for his adoptive Aunt Lucy’s (voiced by Imelda Staunton) 100th birthday.
Paddington finds the perfect gift in a pop-up book of London landmarks in the antiques shop of Samuel Gruber (Jim Broadbent) but it is very expensive, so Paddington launches a window-cleaning round to earn the money. One night Paddington passes by Gruber’s shop and witnesses someone stealing the book, giving chase. However the police only catch Paddington running away of the crime and he is subsequently sent prison for theft.
A shocking turn of events for the polite, marmalade sandwich loving bear but despite this heavy premise, the tone never reaches any level of despair enough to traumatise younger viewers. There is one moment near the end where tragedy is teased and even I must confess to fearing the worst for a second, such is the effectiveness of the scene, but ultimately we’re on safe territory when it comes to family friendly drama.
Scripted by Paul King and comic-actor Simon Farnaby (who also has a small role as a museum security guard) this fairly simple plot gives birth to a number of wildly inventive set pieces and clever slapstick comedy in some the least expected places. For example, a wild and physical mishap at the barbers where Paddington works is Chaplin with a hint of Norman Wisdom, whilst solving a weight distribution problem during window cleaning has a palpable Buster Keaton influence to it.
Unusually for a film that youngsters can enjoy, there are a number of instances and comic asides that appear incongruous and there for the sake of a joke, but in fact reveal a greater purpose in a series of callbacks later on, no matter how small. Not to suggest that kids aren’t capable of spotting plot holes or question something, but often in family films, unconnected skits designed purely to amuse and entertain are commonplace.
The plot kicks off in earnest with a trip to the funfair for the Brown family, headed by parents Mrs. Brown (Sally Hawkins) and Mr. Brown (Hugh Bonneville), which is opened by their neighbour and deluded thespian Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant). It is obvious he is the thief from Gruber’s shop (in disguise – he is an actor after all) but why would he be interested in a pop-up book?
Naturally it isn’t for the 3D pictures but the pressing issue is poor Paddington going to prison for something he didn’t do, having to rub shoulders with career criminals like Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson), the terrifying chef no-one dares complain to about his non-existent cooking. But, Paddington manages to charm everyone with his policy of always being polite, while his marmalade making abilities helps turn the prison into a prosperous teahouse!
Such whimsy could only work in a family film and it helps if one allows themselves to be seduced by such anarchic caprice, but King makes it irresistible, effortless pulling us into Paddington’s world from the onset. Much of the credit should go to the SFX teams and the editors, whose seamless transitions in the time-lapsing single shots which blend live and CGI cast are a true marvel.
For older viewers, the scene of Paddington and Aunt Lucy walking through London via the pages of the pop-up book is a wonderful reference to the presentation style of the original 1970’s TV show – the 3D imagery of the book’s drawings echo the cardboard cut out backgrounds and human figures of old, interacting with the CGI bears, as opposed to the stop-motion ones.
The third act is action packed, again with a pronounced influence from the silent days of comedy in the death defying physical stunts of near misses and comic prat falls, the only difference being the silent comedians didn’t have CGI and green screen technology at their disposal. Even so, as much of a time consuming and painstaking process this is for the animators, the results are outstanding and always convincing.
Many of the human cast return from the first film to resume their roles, including Julie Walters as Mrs. Bird and Peter Capaldi as Mr. Curry, joined by a new raft of recognisable British faces like Sanjeev Bhaskar, Ben Miller, Jessica Hynes, Tom Conti and Joanna Lumley. Hugh Grant hams it up as loathsome luvvie Phoenix Buchanan, sending himself up something rotten, especially in the shamelessly camp closing number.
Once again it needs reiterating that this incarnation of Paddington is so realistic that we forget not only it is CGI but also that he is a bear. I defy anyone not to feel moved when he cries in prison or is trapped in a hopeless situation in the aforementioned final act; yet you’ll laugh heartily at the comic scrapes he gets into and the reactions his infectious positivity yield from others.
In imparting a simple message of right versus wrong and the virtues and power of reciprocal community spirit, it is fortuitous a good natured if slightly naive bear is the perfect conduit for this. Michael Bond sadly died before Paddington 2’s release but I’m sure he would have been happy this vastly entertaining and delightfully fun film has made his creation even more endearing.