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PADDINGTON 2 (2017) review

January 11, 2018

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written by: Simon Farnaby and Paul King
produced by: David Heyman
directed by: Paul King
rated: PG (for some action and mild rude humor)
runtime: 103 min.
U.S. release date: January 12, 2018

 

The adorable orange marmalade sandwich loving bear is back on the big screen and just like he did three years ago, Paddington stars in the best movie of the new year. Sure, it’s not even two weeks into the new year – and technically, “Paddington 2” opened last November in the UK – but just like the last film directed by Paul King, based on the beloved children’s tales from Michael Bond, this delightful sequel has found its way to the States in January, which is typically a dumping ground for dreck that studios unload on us. We should be grateful, considering it’s rare to find a sequel for the all-ages crowd that’s this enjoyable, good-natured and charming.

The sequel opens “many bear years ago” in the jungles of Peru, where we see Paddington’s adoptive Aunt Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton) and Uncle Pastuzo (voiced by Michael Gambon), sitting on a rope bridge over a river of rapids, as they enjoy marmalade sandwiches. What transpires soon after in this scene, speaks to how much Paddington’s beloved Aunt Lucy means to him as we see how a dramatic rescue brought the young bear into the lives of these two older bears. Paddington (voided by Ben Whishaw) grew up hearing Aunt Lucy reiterate an important life lesson, “If you’re kind and polite, the world will be right,” which he takes to heart and becomes second nature for Paddington in his present life in London’s Windsor Gardens, where he continues to live with the Brown family.

 

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Indeed, life with his adopted family has proved to be a content one, in which he manages to subconsciously enrich the lives of every one of his neighbors, just by being himself each day – like clockwork, he brings lunch to one cyclist and reminds a neighbor not to lock himself out of his home. Kindness and politeness in action, both of which are gratefully accepted by those he impacts.

This is where co-screenwriters Simon Farnaby (who has a hilarious bit role as Barry the Security Guard) and director King provide us with a wonderful montage that catches us up with what each family member has been up to. May Brown (Sally Hawkins) continues to illustrate children’s books and is training to swim the English Channel, while her husband Henry Brown (Hugh Bonneville) is in somewhat of a midlife crisis after a promotion he was hoping for passes him up. Their children, who continue to be like true siblings to Paddington, have also grown. Having recently been scorned by a break-up with her boyfriend, Judy (Madeleine Harris) channels her energy into creating a newspaper the excludes boys, while her brother Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) has left his nerdy, independent ways for a more typical teenage experience. Of course, there’s the housekeeper, Mrs. Bird (Julie Walters), who supports Paddington in every which way. It dawned on me that the entire Brown family can come across like a darling PG-rated version of the Pearson claim from the TV series “This is Us”.

 

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Having established where everyone is at, in essence catching the audience up in a most whimsical way, Farnaby and King then get on with what will be Paddington’s adventure for this chapter. That adventure revolves around Paddington’s desire to get a great gift for his dear Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday (bears don’t show their age), who still resides in Peru. While perusing the antique shop owned by his friend, Samuel Gruber (Jim Broadbent), Paddington is smitten with an elaborate “popping book” of London that turns out to be a rare novelty that was thought lost long ago. That being said, it’s a pricey item and since Paddington has his heart set on gifting the book to Aunt Lucy, since it showcases a London she’s never seen in person, he decides to earn money to afford it. After a hilarious turn as a hair dresser, Paddington winds up finding his niche as a window washer and as just as he’s come close to the amount he needs, he witnesses the book getting stolen by a bearded thief.

Of course, we know the thief is Hugh Grant, who portrays the movie’s vain antagonist, a washed-up actor named Phoenix Buchanan, who has a talent for disguises and a proclivity for talking to the many costumed mannequins in his parlor. He has a past that connects him to the creator of the book Paddington had his heart set on, since he’s aware that each turn of the page is filled with Easter eggs that lead to real life treasure. Since Paddington was not only a witness to the crime, but spotted at the scene, he is accused of theft and sentenced to ten years in prison.

Wait a minute…a sweet and charming all-ages movie in which a lovable bear goes to jail? You bet, since it doesn’t take long for Paddington’s kind and polite disposition to soften even the hardest of hard-hearted criminals. Indeed he wins over the crusty cook, Knuckles McGinty (a priceless Brendan Gleeson), whom all the other inmates, such as Phis (Noah Taylor) and Spoon (Aaron Neil), are intimidated by, due to his sincere straightforward nature. While the Brown family are trying their best to find the real thief, Paddington has unintentionally overhauled the morale inside the slammer by accidentally dying the prisoners drab clothes into a pleasant pink and opening up the menu to anyone with a recipe idea to offer. Next thing we know, pastries and sugar delicacies are made and decorative plants are draped throughout the prison’s interior. Surely this Paddington is a walking contagion of good cheer and an undeniably optimistic outlook.

 

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By the time Paddington and his Chaplinesque new crew are in full escape prison mode, there is a delightful touch of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” on display. The gags and laughs are deftly handled with just the right amount of winking and nodding that will find you smiling in your seat, even laughing out loud, instead of rolling your eyes, which is a reaction you expect to have to such a movie. If you were to tell me that the previous movie would hit all the right notes and wind up one of the more rewarding viewing experiences three years ago, I would’ve indeed rolled my eyes. But here we are now with a sequel that is near-perfect, clicking on all emotional and entertainment cylinders at just the right speed.

Granted, King and Simon Farnaby’s screenplay connect the origin of the prized pop-up book to the creator of a traveling carnival is somewhat convoluted, the movie is nevertheless filled with such joyous color and engaging characters that it’s easy to glaze over any inconsequential questions that come up. Many of the supporting characters from the first movie return, like the militant Mr. Curry (Peter Capaldi), a self-proclaimed neighborhood cop who unsuccessfully tries to spread his paranoia for Paddington at every turn. This time around, that one-dimensional character gets old fast. Nevertheless, there are many joys to “Paddington 2”, on of which is to just watch this great cast and their furry lead do their thing.

However, the surprising standout of the movie is Grant. From the moment Phoenix Buchanan appears to the very end credits when he’s headlining a very pink musical number to the tune of a plucky Sondheim ditty, it’s obvious he’s having a swell time. He’s genuinely game and in every scene, whether he’s dressing up as a nun or a knight in shining armor or (the best by far) a spaniel costume for a dog food commercial, he is all-in every step of the way with impeccable comic timing. I loved how the walls and counters of his home are adorned with framed photos of Grant, smoldering in early 90s pout, making it a not-so-subtle in-joke to the actor’s image.

The cinematography and production design of the film is memorable and most notable, thanks to the talents of Erik Wilson and Gary Williamson (both of whom worked on the last movie with King), respectively. This can be seen in the creative manner in which Paddington’s imagination and desires are realized, usually linked to his love for Aunt Lucy. When he thinks of how perfect the book would be for her, the movie then transforms into the world of a pop-up book, where Paddington is escorting Aunt Lucy through each of these paper-cut London landmarks. We also see Peruvian jungle plants come to life out of Paddington’s prison cell floor as he imagines what it would be like to see his Aunt Lucy once again in her habitat, seeking the comfort and reassurance he longs for.

 

Is Paddington’s inherited “kind and polite” mantra to idealistic or simple-minded for audiences today? So be it. We can use such a beneficial approach with all the heated vitriol floating in the air each week. “Paddington 2” is definitely entertaining and a wonderful experience, but it ultimately should serve to remind viewers that just being kind and polite towards others is a step in the right direction for improving the world for the better.

 

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RATING: ***1/2

 

 

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