Movies/TV

Review: The 'Paddington' sequel bears laughs, warmth, and charm

Paddington spends some quality time in the prison kitchen.
Paddington spends some quality time in the prison kitchen.

“Paddington 2,” the charming and funny follow-up to the charming and funny and money-making 2014 “Paddington,” opens with a surprise: A back story for the fuzzy, little, good-natured, oh-so-polite young bear who, in the first film, made his way from the peaceful jungles of Peru to the bustle of London, and a whole new way of life as part of the Brown family.

It quickly jumps to the present, where Paddington (voice of Ben Whishaw) has settled in with slightly stuffy but well-meaning risk analyst Mr. Brown (Hugh Bonneville), his perky wife Mary (Sally Hawkins), who writes and illustrates children’s adventure stories, and their kids, Judy (Madeleine Harris), who has been dumped by her boyfriend Tony, and Jonathan (Samuel Joslin), who has taken to calling himself J-Dogg.

Although it’s still a little thorny to accept the story’s premise it’s perfectly normal for a young talking bear to be a resident of London, there he is, one of the most popular fellows on the street, friendly with everyone except Mr. Curry, the cranky neighbor in the first film who’s even more annoying this time around.

Following the unwritten rule that kids’ movies must have a villain (Nicole Kidman took on that role last time), here we’ve got another neighbor, Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), a full-of-himself washed-up actor. He’s initially seen as merely narcissistic, but goes full-blown bad guy when he discovers Paddington is saving his money to buy a birthday present for his Aunt Lucy (voice of Imelda Staunton), who’s about to turn 100 back in Peru. For reasons that aren’t clear till well into the film, Phoenix wants Paddington’s gift of choice for himself, goes about stealing it, then helps to frame Paddington for the theft.

The beautifully produced computer-animated/live-action film stands out from others of its ilk for a few reasons. One is the script avoids stooping to any potty humor, which foolishly has tarnished so many kids’ films (except for Pixar’s contributions) just to get a cheap laugh out of its target audience. Another, much riskier one, is it places our kind-hearted, affable and innocent hero in prison, among thugs, the one place where you just don’t want to see him.

But, like the jobs Paddington takes to earn money – cleaning a barbershop, washing windows – his prison life is a source of a great many laughs, of silly humor, both verbal and visual. As the story progresses, co-writers Simon Farnaby and Paul King (who has returned to direct again) provide sight gag after sight gag, many of them accompanied by peppy, poppy music.

The stolen object is an old, one-of-a-kind pop-up book featuring various landmarks around London that Phoenix believes contains clues that lead to a treasure, and part of the story stays with him and his search to put them together. At the same time, the Brown family is trying to win Paddington his freedom. And, while all of that is happening, we get a look at what Paddington is going through in the hoosegow, and especially how he’s coping with the fearsome jailhouse chef Knuckles McGinty (a hilarious Brendan Gleeson). Here’s a hint: Orange marmalade just might save the day.

The film veers from enormously funny to slightly sad, and never stops pushing the importance of family, whether it be the one consisting of the Browns and the ursine lad who lives with them or the one who lives, against their will, behind bars.

As has come to be expected in films that match up live characters with CG creations, “Paddington 2” is a wholly convincing visual treat. It also presents the opportunity for Grant to shamelessly overact in his role as an actor who overacts, and it ramps up the action in its latter parts with a thrilling train chase sequence. One other thing that’s almost become expected in these sorts of films: Stay for the end credits, for which Stephen Sondheim will get some royalties.

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