Christmas is fast approaching, and so too is the slew of family-friendly films that flood cinemas at this time of year. Getting in just ahead of the festive rush is Paddington 2. Off the back of plenty hype, and a handily-timed marketing campaign with M&S, the clumsy but well-meaning bear from darkest Peru is back, marmalade sandwiches firmly in paw.
The first film was a rip-roaring hoot, with plenty for both kids and adults to enjoy. Thankfully, this follow-up more than lives up to its predecessor. Paddington, who is happily ensconced with the Brown Family in Windsor Gardens, is desperate to find the perfect present for his beloved Aunt Lucy, who is about to celebrate her 100th birthday back at the home for retired bears in Peru. Mr Gruber (Jim Broadbent), the owner of the local antiques shop, thinks he’s found just the thing – an exquisite pop-up book depicting different London landmarks.
However, Paddington’s hopes of getting hold of the book, are dashed when it’s pinched from the shop by dastardly villain of the piece, Phoenix Buchanan, a luvvier than life actor, played by Hugh Grant. Phoenix has fallen on hard times. He’s now cast in dog food commercials rather than Shakespeare, and the book, it turns out, contains hidden clues that he hopes will lead him to a hidden fortune. Paddington is framed for the theft and, via a stint behind bars and with the help of the Browns, embarks on a mission to bother recover the book and clear his good name.
The jokes, from a script written by Horrible Histories’ Simon Farnaby and director Paul King, come thick and fast. There are some joyous set pieces, such Paddington’s disastrous stint working in a barber shop, to zinging parent-friendly gags, such as the brief appearance from an imprisoned MP, who’s still doing his best to garner a few votes.
Equally as impressive are the film’s visuals, which are ambitious and well executed. Animated flourishes, such as the pop-up book exploding into life, lends the film a vivacious element of surprise, while the excellence of the CGI also means Paddington is firmly grounded in this cartoonish, larger-than-life version of London. The entire prison section is wonderfully realised, too, with its accidentally-pink uniforms, brilliantly orchestrated canteen scenes and cross-section view of the cells during Paddington’s escape, seeming to consciously echo Wes Anderson’s stylised cinematic universe.
Ben Wishaw voices Paddington with just the right tone of understated naivety, and Grant hams it up in the bad guy role with a relish that’s infectious. The supporting cast, including Peter Capaldi, Sally Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson and Julie Walters, all appear to be having the time of their lives – and why wouldn’t they be?
I should offer one warning. Grown-ups who come out in a rash at sentimental, happy family endings would be well advised to take some antihistamines along with them to help them get through the final section. Luckily, I’m sucker for this kind of finale when it’s in the context of a film that’s as witty and charming as Paddington 2. Just before the credits roll there is a dedication to ‘our friend Michael Bond’, the Paddington creator who died in June. As tributes go, this is just about the perfect one.