Back in 2014, Paddington came out of absolutely nowhere to become one of my favourite films of the year, a real family treat that was warm, pitch perfect and genuinely laugh out loud funny. As with any great cinematic success these days, a sequel was inevitable, and three years later we have Paddington 2, a straight forward title that I hoped would stick to the straight forward and satisfying formula that served its predecessor so very well.
I’m pleased to report that, although Paddington 2 doesn’t quite manage to replicate the perfect magic of the first in the series, it is still without a doubt one of the best family films of the year. The narrative follows Paddington (Ben Whishaw) as he finds himself in a spot of trouble after being wrongly convicted of stealing a precious book, and his journey is both helped and hindered by a mixture of familiar characters and new additions, all of whom only serve to make the film even more enjoyable. In terms of tone, the film stays pretty loyal to its predecessor, which is certainly a good thing in this instance. Nit pickers might argue the point that the key villain in 2017 isn’t quite as menacing as the Nicole Kidman was in 2014, but the shift in antagonist style does not harm the overall quality of the picture.
I don’t quite know what it is about Paddington compared to almost all of the other family oriented adventures in recent years (leaving Pixar aside), but there is something in the delicate balance of child based comedy and adult based comedy that hits a real sweet spot for a wide, multi-aged audience, making the film pretty much impossible not to love. I will admit to being charmed slightly more by the first instalment than by this sequel, but in the larger scheme of things, we are talking about the difference between one of the best children’s films in the last five years and one that might take a close second. Paddington 2 is cute without being corny, funny without being foolish, and sentimental without being saccharine, it strikes a better balance between its themes and assorted tones than most adult features out there right now. It’s movies like this, movies aimed for children but made with the same level of care, attention and precision as any dramatic Oscar contender that help to restore one’s faith in the future of cinema. How else, after all, is young child going to grow up to be a cinephile if they are not presented with the kind of enchanting experiences that all of us can recall in the likes of E.T., The Lion King, Toy Story, Jumanji, etc? I may very well be getting carried away, Paddington 2 most likely will not be championed as long and a fondly as those that I have mentioned, but at the end of the day, it’s just really refreshing and inspiring when you get to experience something so well executed and so full of joy.
In terms of the cast, you can refer to my review of the first Paddington for my thoughts on returning characters played by Ben Whishaw, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins and Julie Walters, as nothing has changed and that is the highest of compliments! Adding something to the mix this time round is Hugh Grant as main villain Phoenix Buchanan, who is clearly having the time of his life, giving his best James McAvoy in Split as a washed up actor with tendency for morphing in to one of his several ‘favourite’ characters. Though I personally enjoyed Nicole Kidman’s Millicent Clyde a little bit more, Grant will no doubt please the masses with his self-aware, camp, unabashed performance. The same goes for Brendan Gleeson as Paddington’s prison pal Knuckles McGinty, although decidedly less camp it must be said! Other pleasant cameos are made by the likes of Jim Broadbent, Joanna Lumley, Peter Capaldi, Richard Ayoade, Tom Conti and Ben Miller, all of whom come together to make up one of the best British casts you’ll see all year.
There is just something really enjoyable about watching a group of mature actors fully commit themselves to the silly nature of a children’s film, doing so without reservation and without pretension. It’s the genuine commitment and passion from everyone involved that really comes through for the audience. You can’t just make something heartfelt and genuine by describing it as such, it takes real filmmaking magic and Paddington 2 has it in spades.
Overall, as you can see, Paddington 2 is a triumph. It might suffer just a few ‘difficult second album’ hangups in relation to its perfect predecessor, but if Paddington is a ten out of ten, then Paddington 2 is a solid eight and half/nine. If you’re looking for a family friendly, mass appeal flick that is more than worth the extortionate ticket prices, then don’t hesitate to mark this down as a must see before the big screens get taken over by the unstoppable, fast approaching Star Wars juggernaut!