Saturday, 23 December 2017

Paddington 2

(G) ★★★★

Director: Paul King.

Cast: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson, Madeleine Harris, Samuel Joslin, Julie Walters, Noah Taylor, Aaron Neil, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi.

"And you won't believe what happens when someone drops the soap."
The first Paddington film was surprisingly wonderful. Despite spawning a creepy meme, losing its main star mid-production, and boasting an uninspiring and somewhat unrepresentative trailer, it proved to be one of the best films of 2014. No one saw that coming.

This success was born out of director Paul King's visual inventiveness, a light but heartfelt tone that perfectly suited and summed up its subject, and a wonderfully British sense of humour matched by an impeccable sense of timing. Add in Ben Wishaw’s under-rated voice performance as a decidedly not creepy Paddington, and wonderfully villainous bit of scenery chewing from Nicole Kidman, and you had a family film for the ages (and for all ages).

Follow-ups are hard to do, but Paddington 2 knows which side its bread is buttered (with added marmalade, of course) and repeats the winning recipe.

The second outing of the duffle-coated bear finds its titular hero enjoying life in London with the Browns (led by Hawkins and Bonneville) but with an eye still on his homeland of darkest Peru, in particular his Aunt Lucy and her impending birthday. In his hunt for the perfect gift, Paddington inadvertently ends up as the fall guy in a bizarre theft which lands the poor bear in prison while his family hunt for the real culprit.

The story is stranger and more outlandish than the original's, but it’s still enjoyable, with a fair amount of the credit for the enjoyability going to Hugh Grant, who stars as the film's villain Phoenix Buchanan. Grant is all ham with extra bacon in a role which he is allowed to attack with relish (mmm... bacon and relish). He flips through a range of silly voices, wears a bunch of silly costumes, and generally revels in the silliness of it all, much like Kidman did in the first film. Grant is having so much fun, and it certainly doesn't harm the film at all.

In fact it seems everyone is having a ball in Paddington 2. Gleeson, a forgotten dab hand at comedy, shines as the thuggish prison chef Nuckels (sic), while Hawkins and Bonneville look like they're having just as much fun second time around. Capaldi is also a minor treat as the returning angry neighbour Mr Curry.

It all helps to ensure the charming humour and whimsical tone return as well. Paddington 2 is frequently, like its predecessor, laugh-out-loud hilarious. Both of these films are lessons in comic timing, and the most recent one, while not quite as funny, has the ability again to make all ages laugh.

The visual wizardry is also on display once more. King's directorial bravura was a hit in the first film, and it's the same here - a pop-up book tour of London, a sped-up marmalade cook-up, and a prison break that would make Wes Anderson jealous are among the key scenes that showcase the inventiveness. Its pixel-intensive bear is also a work of art, although the film's special effects do fall down somewhat in a CG-heavy climax.

A fantastic sequel, Paddington 2 is really only marked lower because it's not quite as funny or as visually impressive as its older sibling. But it's still the best non-Pixar family film of the year.

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