Director: Paul King
Screenplay: Paul King, Simon Farnaby
Based on the Characters Created by: Michael Bond
Starring: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant, Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, Julie Walters
Country: UK, France, USA
Running Time: 104 min
BBFC Certificate: PG
There’s often little fanfare for sequels to children’s films. Far too often they’re lazy cash-ins rushed out to ride the success of the original. Half the time they simply go straight to DVD (or on-demand or whatever the kids are using these days). However, you occasionally get a family film that’s so good you can’t help but get excited by a follow up. Paddington was such a film. When the first trailers came out for the 2014 adaptation of Michael Bond’s beloved creation, it looked frankly terrible. Focusing too closely on the wildest moments of the film’s set-pieces, particularly showing Paddington on a skateboard, it looked like the age-old mistake of modernising a classic character would be in play. How wrong I was. The first film ended up being a sweet, touching and beautifully crafted family film that, perhaps most importantly, stuck close to the source material. So, when a sequel was announced I was much more excited than I was when I first caught wind of the original. Further fuelling my desire to see Paddington 2 was its reviews.. Positive would be an understatement. In fact, although Lady Bird enjoyed a lot of publicity by announcing it had received the most consecutive ‘fresh’ reviews on Rotten Tomatoes of all time, Paddington 2 quietly trumped its record a few months later. Of course, all this hype was just setting me up for a fall though. Surely nothing can live up to this amount of acclaim?
Before I reveal my answer to this question, let me fill you in on the bear’s story this second time around. Paddington 2 opens with the titular character (voiced by Ben Whishaw) integrated perfectly into the community. He’s the charming little dynamo that keeps his neighbours going each day. He has a special task at the time. His Aunt Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton) is turning 100 and Paddington wants to get her the perfect present. He spots a beautiful pop-up book of London in his friend Mr Gruber’s (Jim Broadbent) antiques shop and simply has to buy it. Unfortunately it’s quite special so costs more than the bear can afford. So he heads to work to earn some extra cash. Whilst doing this however, has-been actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant) learns about the book’s existence and he knows there’s more to it than meets the eye. In fact it houses the secret to finding a hidden treasure, so Phoenix steals the book. Paddington catches him in the act, but the authorities pin the blame on the bear and our warm-hearted hero is thrown in prison. He has a tough time and misses his newfound family, but makes friends with the tough prison chef Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson) and turns the whole facility into a happier place. He can’t settle too long though as he must get out and stop Phoenix, clear his name and get the book back for his auntie.
I needn’t have worried about Paddington 2 living up to its hype as it’s as utterly charming and lovable as the first, if not more so. Once again staying true to the source material, even if the plot deviates further from the books than in the previous film, the unwavering honesty and kindness of the character is there and as infectious as ever, not only on those around him, but on the audience too. Again, the film avoids lazy pop-culture references or other attempts to be ‘down with the kids’. In fact it points fun at the latter by having young Jonathan Brown (Samuel Joslin), who has become a teenager, attempt to adopt a cool new persona for secondary school by calling himself ‘J-Dog’ and hiding his love for steam engines and other ‘uncool’ activities. This of course all comes undone by the end and he returns to his old self.
What has been amped up a notch for this second film is the craftsmanship. With a larger budget due to the success of the first film, director Paul King had all the toys at his disposal to pull off some mightily impressive and inventive sequences, including a superb swirling camera time-lapse scene where Paddington transforms the prison cafeteria into a pastel-hued patisserie. In general, the production design and cinematography has a distinct Wes Anderson feel to it too, without feeling like cheap mimicry. The action/comedy set pieces are also wonderfully conceived, with a great energy in the presentation, often employing long, rapidly moving takes. These sequences are often hilarious too, with two early scenes standing out in particular, where Paddington becomes a barber’s assistant and a window washer.
The cast are excellent too. Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville are as dependable as ever as the Browns and Hugh Grant makes a wonderful villain. He’s clearly relishing the chance to ham it up and makes for a markedly less frightening, but much more enjoyable villain than Nicole Kidman in the first film. Brendan Gleeson is an absolute treat as the hardened criminal who has his heart melted by our favourite bear. Special kudos must also go to Whishaw and the animation team behind Paddington, as the subtly emotive performance they get out of the animated character is most impressive and vital to the success of the film.
It truly is something special and hard to fault. If I wanted to be incredibly cynical I could say I found the level of British comic cameos a tad distracting, but that would really be nit-picking. Utterly charming from start to finish, with a warm heart and polished visuals, it’s a sheer delight that I think is even better than its surprisingly good predecessor.
Paddington 2 is out now on digital download and on Blu-Ray, Ultra HD & DVD on 12th March in the UK, released by Studiocanal. I saw the Blu-Ray version and the film looks and sounds fantastic.
There are a few special features included too. Theses are as follows:
– Director’s Commentary
– ‘Rain on the Roof’ with Phoenix Buchanan – Full Screen
– Paddington 2: The Challenge of Making the Film
– BAFTA Q&A with David Heyman, Paul King, Simon Farnaby, Hugh Grant and Pablo Grillo
The ‘making of’ is interesting, but far too brief. The Q&A and commentary on the other hand are both excellent. The former is a lot of fun, with those in attendance providing nice background information on the production whilst cracking a lot of jokes. The commentary chat sees King breathlessly providing an in depth look at the making of the film without any down-time. It balances nicely between lightly enjoyable and informative.