Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Paul King

Stars: voices of Ben Whishaw, Imelda Staunton, Michael Gambon; Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Hugh Grant, Madeleine Harris, Samuel Joslin, Brendan Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, Tom Conti, Julie Walters, Ben Miller, Richard Ayoade, Joanna Lumley.

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Paddington, the marmalade loving bear from the wildest jungles of Peru who found a new home in the suburbs of London, was created by the late Michael Bond in 1958. Since then the late author wrote over 100 books about the misadventures of Paddington; they have sold over 35 million copies and even been adapted into a popular television animated tv series. The first live action feature film about Paddington was released in 2014, and featured the voice of Ben Whishaw (Q in the rebooted Daniel Craig Bond series) as the titular marmalade loving bear. Paddington was the highest grossing independently produced family film of all time, so it is not surprising that the producers have gone back for a second bite of the marmalade sandwich. And surprisingly, this cute and enjoyable sequel is even better than the original, with a strong mix of slapstick humour, drama and action that will appeal to audiences of all ages.

Original director Paul King (best known for his work on the tv series The Mighty Boosh, etc) returns, as do the original cast, and this further adds to the appeal of the film. The film has been written by King and Simon Farnaby, who perfectly capture the spirit of Bond’s books. They also work in universal themes of family, acceptance and tolerance, that will resonate strongly with audiences.

Paddington 2 builds beautifully on the world created in the original. When the film opens Paddington (again voiced with charm and a touch of mischief and innocence by Whishaw) has settled into life with the Brown family in their suburban home in Windsor Gardens. Paddington, who looks for the good in everybody, has been accepted by the wider community, with the sole exception of the sneering, curmudgeonly self-appointed local guardian Mr Curry (Doctor Who’s Peter Capaldi).

Family matriarch Mary (Sally Hawkins) is in training to swim the English Channel. The hapless Henry (Hugh Bonneville) is passed over for an important promotion at work and slumps into a midlife crisis. He takes up yoga as a form of therapy. Daughter Judy (Madeleine Harris) turns her focus to running the school’s newspaper while son Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) has ditched model steam trains for the stylings of a rapper to appear cool at school.

Paddington is anxious to buy a birthday present for his aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton), and thinks he has found the perfect gift when he finds a 19th century pop up picture book about London and its unique landmarks in the antique shop run by Mr Gruber (Jim Broadbent). To earn money to purchase the rare book though Paddington embarks on a series of odd jobs, such as window washing, which leads to some great physical comedy and slapstick moments, including an elaborate and wonderfully choreographed sequence in a barber shop.

But the book is stolen from the shop by Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), a local actor who has fallen on hard times and is reduced to appearing in dog food commercials and opening local fairs like Madame Kozlova’s circus. Buchanan knows that the book contains a secret code that will lead to a hidden treasure that once belonged to gypsy fortune teller Madam Kozlova’s great-great-grandmother. Buchanan is something of a master of disguise, and wants the treasure in order to finance his comeback one-man show. But after Buchanan steals the book, Paddington is mistakenly arrested for the crime and sent to prison.

While the Brown family desperately try to prove his innocence, Paddington tries to adjust to life behind bars. His upbeat optimism and love of marmalade eventually helps him make an unlikely ally with the toughest inmate Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson), the hardnosed prison chef. McGinty and his pals eventually help arrange a prison escape in a sequence that will remind older audiences of a scene from Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel.

The visual humour and physical slapstick has broad appeal, while the older audiences will be caught up in Paddington’s efforts to escape from prison, find the stolen book and clear his name. Returning director King stages some well crafted set pieces, including a train chase that recalls the humour of silent comics like Buster Keaton. King’s sense of comic timing is impeccable, and he has such a fine understanding of the material that he is able to suffuse the material with lots of great in-jokes and filmic references.

There is some great production design from Gary Williamson (Paddington), and returning cinematographer Erik Wilson has shot the film crisply. As with the original, the CGI created Paddington with his signature red hat and duffel coat, is seamlessly integrated into the live action. There is one superb scene in which Paddington and aunt Lucy take a tour through the streets of London depicted in the pop-up book, a magical moment that works a treat.

The ensemble cast are all perfect. Gleeson normally has a formidable screen presence, but he tones down his usual gruff persona here and his intimidating approach is used for good comic effect here. Grant enjoys himself immensely here as the old-fashioned pantomime-like villain of the piece and he has a ball as the reprehensible and narcissistic Buchanan. He gets some of the film’s best lines and steals just about every scene. The supporting cast includes a veritable who’s-who of British thespians including Tom Conti, Ben Miller, Richard Ayoade, Eileen Atkins, Joanna Lumley, Julie Walters and Michael Gambon in small roles.

Paddington 2 is the perfect family friendly entertainment for the holiday period.


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