After the unexpected delights of 2014’s Paddington, a live action franchise reboot that effectively grounded the Peruvian bear in modern society while simultaneously possessing a timeless quality, director Paul King has gone one better for this wonderful, gently comic sequel. If the previous effort in the franchise was a reintroduction to the universally beloved children’s character, then that film’s unexpected success has led King to a noticeably larger budget for this sequel, which pops off the screen with a visual inventiveness usually reserved for Wes Anderson or Edgar Wright – albeit on a production whose scale they could only dream of.
Paddington is living a happy life with the Brown family (led by Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins as Henry and Mary Brown) in a colourful London suburb where he found a home in the previous instalment. His domestic bliss is soon ruined, however, when he finds an antique pop up book he hopes to send to Peru as a gift for his aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday. At a carnival, he announces his intentions to get a job and save enough money to the pompous and incessantly shifty stage actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant) – and just a day later, the pop up book has been robbed, and Paddington is thrown in to jail for the crime. As the Browns attempt to prove his innocence outside, he makes friends with the prison’s ill tempered chef, Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson), and plots to get outside and prove he is the same old bear he was before.
Paddington 2 is fun for all the family, without ever feeling like a children’s film; there’s an intelligent cineliteracy at play here, with slapstick sequences that not only refer back to the glory days of Charlie Chaplin, but are constructed with enough comic incisiveness that it doesn’t feel like hyperbole to refer to them as the modern day equivalent. Paul King, along with co-screenwriter Simon Farnaby (who pops up, like the majority of Britain’s comedic character actors, in a brief cameo here) has perfected the art of storytelling that’s enjoyable for all ages. It’s a gloriously uncynical, charming romp, full of slapstick gags, and even a tense, climactic action sequence. It’s hard to imagine anybody walking away without a smile on their face.
King’s real triumph is, once again, making you forget that Paddington is a CGI character in the midst of a murderer’s row of well known character actors happily quirking it up. In a film dependent on a tightly controlled brand of lunacy, Paddington is, oddly enough, the most human character present. His childlike innocence and fondness for politeness is expressed perfectly in Ben Whishaw’s vocal performance, but that’s only half the package. In a brilliantly designed fantasia of London, where a sense of unreality is created due to buildings like The Shard existing alongside the re-emergence of long forgotten historical landmarks including red telephone boxes, it can be easy to look past how well a CGI character has been integrated in to the live action events due to the immense production design that creates a visual spectacle in every last frame. Paddington often feels like the most realistic element in this intricately designed, picture postcard vision of London.
With the film getting immense praise for its humour and ingeniously constructed screenplay, the special effects triumphs of the film have been unfairly overlooked. This is a considerable step up from the first film, and in my opinion, may be the most effective blend of live action and a prominent CGI character since the Lord of the Rings trilogy, not least because this was achieved on a fraction of the budget usually afforded to blockbusters, and has been achieved without utilising motion capture. Of course, the screenplay is still rightly getting widespread acclaim; incidental details in the film’s first half pay off in either jokes or significant plot points in the second, in a manner that recalls Edgar Wright’s screenplays for the Cornetto trilogy and Scott Pilgrim Vs The World. After cutting down on the foreshadowing for Baby Driver, making for a more immediate film that doesn’t lead for repeat viewings to pick up narrative breadcrumbs, it’s an unexpected discovery to find that Paddington 2 feels more like an Edgar Wright film than the widely acclaimed film Wright himself released earlier this year.
The film’s comedic style couldn’t be more different, however, with a very distinctively British absurdism that once again, is a very timeless, picture postcard version of British humour transplanted into a modern multicultural society. You can imagine London’s tourist board will be happy with the film, which equally emphasises the changing face of the city while the plot ensures that it takes in a whistle stop tour of various historical landmarks. It makes Britain feel warm and welcoming, acting as a charming antidote to the toxic societal effects of Brexit – and the immigration subplot integral to the first film is only given a few fleeting references here, largely thanks to a return appearance from Peter Capaldi’s Daily Mail-reader archetype neighbour. In divisive political times, the decision by King for the film not to readdress these issues as the core focal point is a winning one; instead, the love Paddington is afforded by everybody he meets, both in and out of prison, is a commentary on the positive effects of immigration in and of itself, without the need to extensively wax lyrical on the subject.
Paddington 2 is a family film for the ages. A charming, superior sequel brimming with stunning visual designs, hilarious characters and overall, a gentle rush of emotions that warm the heart. Paul King has made a film that is visually and narratively adventurous, never feeling like the corporate product you’d expect from a blockbuster sequel – and for that reason alone, it deserves to be cherished. Here’s to Paddington’s next adventure.