Paddington Brown (voiced by Ben Whishaw) is an upstanding bear with a heart the size of London. He's pure of soul, understanding, inclusive, honest and earnest, someone who puts his loved ones before himself each and every time. The wonderful sequel he is in, "Paddington 2," is the kind of hopeful film this strife-filled world needs right about now. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby have followed up 2014's equally warm "Paddington
" with another morsel of cozy jubilance. Late author Michael Bond, he of the classic children's books from which this film series is based, would have a reason to be proud.
Paddington is content and cared for, living happily in Windsor Gardens with the human Brown family: parents Henry (Hugh Bonneville) and Mary (Sally Hawkins), daughter Judy (Madeleine Harris), and son Jonathan (Samuel Joslin). His Aunt Lucy's (voiced by Imelda Staunton) 100th birthday is coming up, and he wants nothing more than to earn the money to buy her a valuable pop-up book of Londonthe very place where the Peru-based Lucy always dreamed of visiting. What Paddington does not know is that this particular book, long thought lost, hides a clue on each page collectively leading to a hidden treasure. When slippery, egotistical fading actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant) learns of the book's whereabouts, he vows to snatch it for himself. Cue a grave misunderstanding which tears Paddington away from the worried Browns, his very freedom in jeopardy unless the lot of them can clear his name.
"Paddington 2" largely avoids the trap of most second installments because it never comes off as a quick money-grab. Real care was clearly put into crafting a worthwhile second adventure for its sweet-as-marmalade title hero. Paddington's determination early on in finding a suitable job where he can make the cash he needs for his aunt's gift sends out a positive message about responsibilityeven as, it should be mentioned, a comedy of errors inevitably ensues at a barbershop. The introduction of Hugh Grant (2016's "Florence Foster Jenkins
"), dynamite as the incorrigible Phoenix Buchanan, is where the picture really takes off. Adopting an array of disguises as he covertly jaunts across London while picking up clues from the landmarks found in the stolen book, Phoenix is a self-obsessed, down-on-his-luck thespian who has turned to dog food commercials because he refuses to share the stage or screen with anyone but himself. If anything, he is so enjoyable the script doesn't seem to take enough advantage of his schemes, with only a handful of these costumes and locations touched upon. There was initial concern in the absence of Nicole Kidman, who was such a terrifically devious standout in the original film, but Grant ably picks up the slack as the colorful villain of the piece.
Ben Whishaw (2015's "Spectre
") is, once again, a perfect Paddington, his voice impeccably suited to embody a bear of honorable character and selflessness. Whether he's finding creative ways to wash windows, having a hand in a neighborhood love connection, longing for Mrs. Brown's bedtime stories from behind bars, or winning over his fellow prison inmates while teaching them about the pleasures of marmalade and interior decorating, Paddington could melt the coldest of hearts. His biggest wishto be able to gift Aunt Lucy with something meaningful for her milestone birthdayacts as his guiding force. An early sequence where he imagines taking her on a tour of London, their journey transformed into a living pop-up book, is a unique visual marvel. Likewise, a locomotive-set climax wherein the Browns' established hobbies and interests are all incorporated into the action is creatively winning and thoughtfully written.
Everyone save for nasty old Phoenix cannot help but eventually succumb to Paddington's valiant, innocent, huggable nature, and why would anyone want to? "Paddington 2" is smart even in its slapstick, avoiding low-rent humor but delighting in screwball situations. Through both its comedy and its emotion, director Paul King finds something more purposeful and resonant to sayabout the irreplaceability of family, the importance of doing the right thing, and the value in simply be a kind person. Paddington may be a talking bear in a floppy red hat, but he has plenty to teach just by being himself.