Paddington 2 review: Superior sequel full of charm and humour

The faithful adventure’s slapstick sequences invoke the memory of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton

Geoffrey Macnab
Friday 27 October 2017 09:17
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Ben Whishaw voices Paddington in wonderfully emollient fashion. The little bear always looks for the good in everybody
Ben Whishaw voices Paddington in wonderfully emollient fashion. The little bear always looks for the good in everybody

Dir. Paul King, 95 mins, voiced by/starring: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant, Brendan Gleeson, Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, Noah Taylor

Paddington Bear returns to the screen in a superior sequel so full of charm and good humour that it should delight audiences everywhere. True, the sentimentality is just as pronounced as in the first Paddington film; the relentless foregrounding of London landmarks risks becoming wearisome, and the marmalade-themed jokes are spread a bit thick, but this doesn’t make the film any the less appealing.

Director Paul King, who co-wrote the script with Simon Farnaby, is faithful to the spirit of Paddington’s creator Michael Bond, who died earlier this year, while also filling the movie with slapstick sequences invoking the memory of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. If the storytelling was too knowing and too ironic, the magic would disappear instantly. If it was too naive and child-like, the film would become very mawkish. King strikes just the right balance.

Plot-wise, Paddington 2 is flimsy – the entire drama revolves around Paddington’s attempts to get hold of a pop-up book of London to give his Aunt Lucy for her 100th birthday – but, from these trivial beginnings, the filmmakers create a full-blown epic.

Early on, all is well with Paddington and his adopted family, the Browns, in their cosy corner of west London. The bear in the red hat and blue duffel coat has become an integral part of his local community, brightening up the lives of all the neighbours with the exception of the curmudgeonly Mr Curry (Peter Capaldi). He still leaves chaos in his wake. Give him an electric toothbrush and he will use it to clean his ears or his nostrils.

Paddington needs money to pay for the pop-up book and so works part-time, with predictably destructive results, as a barber and a window cleaner. “Just giving you some product sir,” he tells the harrumphing old judge (Tom Conti) whose hair, which he has accidentally shaven off, he is trying to stick back on with marmalade as an adhesive. Ben Whishaw voices Paddington in wonderfully emollient fashion. The little bear always looks for the good in everybody. He’s a stickler for manners and basic ursine decency and won’t ever raise his voice.

Paddington 2 - Trailer

The mood of the early scenes is so benign that it’s hard to see where any darkness or danger might come from.

In the first Paddington film, Nicole Kidman was the pantomime-style villainess. Hugh Grant is the equally camp baddie this time round. He plays Phoenix Buchanan, a once distinguished actor now reduced to doing gourmet dog food commercials. Grant enjoys himself as the embittered thesp, a master of disguise who can vanish in a puff of smoke and who’ll dress up as a nun one moment and as a Fagin-like ruffian the next. Buchanan is a cash-strapped narcissist. He wants the pop-up book because he thinks it will lead him to a hidden hoard of gold and jewellery. Such booty may help him pay for a new one-man show.

Thanks to Buchanan’s trickery, Paddington ends up behind bars. The prison sequences provide the most Chaplinesque moments in the film. The bear is surrounded by ruffians and low-lives. He has misadventures in the prison laundry and in the kitchens, which are presided over by the filthy-tempered “Knuckles” McGinty (Brendan Gleeson, looking just as imposing as Eric Campbell in the old Chaplin shorts). Of course, Paddington charms them all eventually and makes them share his love of marmalade sandwiches. For just a moment, when the Browns don’t come to visit him, he thinks he is all alone in the world and succumbs to self-pity. Aunt Lucy wouldn’t like that and he quickly pulls himself together.

King has filled Paddington 2 with character actors and comedians (Joanna Lumley, Noah Taylor, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Jessica Hynes and Richard Aoyade among them) who are all given their bits of comic business. In its zanier moments, the film takes on the momentum of a Coen brothers’ screwball comedy.

In the final reel, there is a great train chase which starts at Paddington station and ends deep in the countryside. At the most hair-raising moments, the little bear makes ingenious use of toffee apples to keep himself from falling. King includes aerial and underwater stunts as well as shots of the little bear clambering on the top of the railway carriages. All this increasingly turbulent action is driven by the little bear’s desire to get hold of the pop-up book for Aunt Lucy. Composer Dario Marianelli’s whirling, high tempo score adds to the increasingly frantic feel of the storytelling. Paddington seems to be turning into Jason Bourne in a duffel coat. His most appealing trait, though, isn’t his heroism but his absolute decency. He is a movie hero without a shade of cynicism, one who never loses either his sticky-pawed innocence or his idealism.

‘Paddington 2’ is released on 10 November

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