Paddington Bear, with his red hat and blue blazer, was always a reflection of our better natures as humans. His optimism was something to which to aspire, and so it's a bit of a surprise to find in Paddington 2, the second of a promising franchise surrounding the late Michael Bond's character out of children's literature, that some kind of prejudice has been leveled against the bear. It might be his appearance in a sea of human homogeneity, or it might be the belief that his being a bear cannot, despite the fact of his walking and talking, dispel the expectation of the beast within suddenly coming out in full force.
Of course, such a belief is ludicrous once one spends even half a second with Paddington (voice of Ben Whishaw), whom this sequel finds just as prone to sincere and innocent clumsiness as the first film did. He is good and wholesome, and here, he discovers just how disappointing some people can be. The first movie saw him break down barriers with a potential adoptive family - the Browns - and this first follow-up thrusts him straight into the wider world through a mishap that lands the bear in jail (We will get to that in a moment).
In that film, one might recall, Paddington entered an extended journey of being domesticated by Mr. and Mrs. Brown (Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins), all the while fending off a villain who wanted to kill Paddington for one reason or another. The sequel offers some genuinely appreciated development on the part of the family: Mr. Brown longs for the days when he was cool enough to be considered a dab hand at that carnival game involving a ball and a collection of pins to knocked from their tiers, Mrs. Brown has decided to inject her dull home life by pursuing competitive swimming, their son Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) has rejected his train-set-loving past to become a superficially "cooler" (if hollower) version of himself, and his sister Judy (Madeleine Harris) has suffered heartbreak and answered by inventing her own printing press to distribute the news of the day.
It also avoids putting Paddington in imminent physical danger, even when a villain shows up to be all maniacal and stuff. That is because Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant) isn't maniacal so much as he is egomaniacal. A washed-up actor who once performed Shakespeare, only to see his career shift wildly toward dog food advertisements, Buchanan is accidentally made aware of a pop-up book, gifted to Paddington by the proprietor of a local antiques shop (played by Jim Broadbent), that could lead to a lost fortune. A mix-up when Buchanan steals the book in one of his elaborate disguises and is too quick for the police force to catch him lands Paddington in jail, where he rubs noses with ornery canteen chef Knuckles (Brendan Gleeson), accidentally turns all the inmates' uniforms pink, and revolutionizes the menu with his famous marmalade sandwiches.
The plot is more of a series of misadventures, dividing its time equally between Paddington's prison sentence (which hilariously turns the whole establishment into a kind of hotel/daycare combination) and the Browns' desperate attempts to catch Buchanan and clear Paddington's name (Grant is a mesmerizing comic force as the dastardly master of disguise, playing a cartoon but refusing to mug for the camera for even a single second). Paddington 2 is a light, pleasant, optimistic, and finally touching affair for, truly, the whole family.
Sally Hawkins (Mary Brown), Hugh Bonneville (Henry Brown), Hugh Grant (Phoenix Buchanan), Brendan Gleeson (Knuckles McGinty), Madeline Harris (Judy Brown), Samuel Joslin (Jonathan Brown), Julie Walters (Mrs. Bird), Jim Broadbent (Mr. Gruber), Noah Taylor (Phibs), Aaron Neil (Spoon), Peter Capaldi (Mr. Curry), Jessica Hynes (Miss Kitts), Ben Miller (Col. Lancaster). Featuring the voices of Ben Whishaw (Paddington Bear), Imelda Staunton (Aunt Lucy), and Michael Gambon (Uncle Pastuzo).
Directed by Paul King and written by King and Simon Farnaby.
Rated PG (action, mild rude humor).
Released on January 12, 2018.