As Aunt Lucy’s (Imelda Staunton) 100th birthday looms, Paddington (Ben Whishaw) decides to get her something special, settling on a beautiful pop-up book of famous London landmarks he finds in Mr. Gruber’s (Jim Broadbent) antiques shop. Saving up money from a brief spell as a barber’s assistant and a prolific window-cleaning career, Paddington gets closer and closer to his goal, while the Brown family go through something of a collective mid-life crisis. Henry (Hugh Bonneville) deals with a growing sense of mediocrity and fears of being over the hill, while his wife Mary (Sally Hawkins) trains to swim the channel. Meanwhile, their daughter Judy (Madeleine Harris) gets over a broken heart by becoming a radical school journalist, and their son Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) ditches his trainset for a cooler persona at his new school.
On a night out, the Browns attend the opening of a visiting circus by faded veteran stage actor – and famous dog food commercial star – Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant). During the ceremony, Paddington accidentally informs Buchanan of the existence of the pop-up book, which legend has it, contains information worth far more than the book itself. Desperate to revive his dwindling career, Buchanan steals the book from Gruber’s shop, framing Paddington in the process. After a swift trial, Paddington finds himself incarcerated, much to the pleasure of local busybody Mr. Curry (Peter Capaldi), who uses the news as an opportunity to propel his self-styled neighbourhood watch into action.
With the help of the Brown family on the outside, Paddington hopes to clear his name and get out in time for Aunt Lucy’s birthday. In the meantime, as he adapts to life behind bars, he must negotiate the intimidating and confusing world of prison, all the while making friends, being polite, and avoiding the wrath of resident hard nuts T-Bone (Tom Davis) and Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson).
Director/co-writer Paul King has pulled off the feat of helming not one but two commercial, cine-literate films that do justice to Bond’s books
This is one of those occasions where the sequel not only builds on and continues the good work of the original, but also improves on it. Full of charming humour, visual invention, and impressive set pieces, Paddington 2 is a thoroughly entertaining and delightful romp, featuring touching performances from an incredible ensemble. From the endlessly endearing double act that is Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins to the scene stealing exploits of Julie Walter’s housekeeper Mrs. Bird, the casting directors have done an astonishing job.
Among the many cameos and supporting turns are: Sanjeev Bhaskar, Meera Syal, Richard Ayoade, Noah Taylor, Tom Conti, Eileen Atkins, Joanna Lumley, Jessica Hynes, Ben Miller, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, and Michael Gambon; while Brendan Gleeson and Hugh Grant are clearly having a whale of a time in their larger roles. Grant will no doubt receive particular attention for his gleefully hammy villain – partly because it is such a surprise to see him care about a film he’s in – but Gleeson also delivers an animated and self-aware performance that is just as worthy of note.
It is Ben Whishaw, however, who continues to shine as the innocent and gentle star, whose kindness and sincerity we can all aspire to. He brings a child-like simplicity to the role that compliments the extraordinary work of the visual effects artists who bring the late, great Michael Bond’s iconic creation to life. Together, they have crafted a hero of such irrepressible honesty and optimism, that everybody will want to look after this bear.
Director/co-writer Paul King has pulled off the feat of helming not one but two commercial, cine-literate films that do justice to Bond’s books, and offer a well-meaning and heartfelt message of empathy and acceptance that both children and adults need very much.