Paddington 2 is as delightful and slyly political as the first film, but with added Hugh Grant
Mighty Boosh alumnus Paul King worked wonders with his 2014 live-action adaptation of Paddington Bear, Michael Bond’s tale of a marmalade-loving and ever-so-polite creature from darkest Peru who finds a home in London. That film, simply titled Paddington, married Bond’s genteel charms with King’s hugely imaginative visual style and the result was a chaotic comic caper with lovely soft edges.
This sequel, also directed by King, is similarly joyful and breakneck, and it’s got a trump card up its sleeve that might just improve on the original: Hugh Grant as self-absorbed actor Phoenix Buchanan, who’s currently broke and slumming it as the face of a gourmet dog food brand. Co-writer Simon Farnaby also co-wrote Julian Barrett comedy Mindhorn, so he has form this year in creating ridiculous down-on-their-luck thespians.
Buchanan has a plan for a comeback, which involves pinching an antique pop-up book that doubles as a treasure map and framing Paddington for the theft. The ruse works, and the bear finds himself in Wormwood Scrubs, where he has to win over the prison’s maddog chef, Nuckles [sic] (Brendan Gleeson). While Paddington is doing porridge, Buchanan is channeling Vincent Price in Theatre of Blood, using his past roles (Magwitch, Macbeth, Poirot) as means of infiltrating various tourist destinations around London to solve the pop-up’s clues. Meanwhile, Paddington’s delightfully dysfunctional adopted family, the Browns, are flyposting every wall in Notting Hill to find the real culprit of the crime for which their duffel-wearing houseguest has been accused.
As was the case in the first film, the intricate production design at times calls to mind Wes Anderson’s fastidious dollhouse aesthetic, but King’s style is more playful. His dizzying flights of fancy and comic digressions instead suggest a British Michel Gondry. This is particularly apparent in an inspired sequence early on in which Paddington appears to fall into the pop-up book he covets, allowing him to explore the city he loves in two-dimensions. Not only is it a lovely bit of lo-fi animation in among the flawless hi-tech CGI that makes the digital bear feel palpable, it’s also a beautiful homage to the art of Peggy Fortnum, whose gorgeous illustrations originally brought Bond’s stories to life on the page. But in general King’s crazy rhythms are all his own, packing practically every frame with a sight-gag or goofy reference that will make small screen rewatches on wet weekends endlessly enjoyable.
These films aren’t merely delightful goofs, however. Like the first movie, Paddington 2 acts as a balm for our troubled times but it’s also quietly political. While certain factions of UK government continue to encourage fear of the foreigner and contempt for thy neighbour, these Paddington films slyly suggest that a little bit of compassion for those around you might be just what’s needed to make our country a bit more bearable to live in, even in that impersonal metropolis of London.
Cynics out there might call the film naïve: it takes more than kindness and a few marmalade sandwiches to make the world a better place. Maybe so, but it’s a start. Like that orange conserve that Paddington loves, this movie is sweet but tangy and will lift your spirits.
Released by StudioCanal