Isn’t it amazing how expectations can change so quickly and colossally? Back when Paddington was scheduled to hit cinemas in 2014, it was the subject of much concern for a great number of audiences. A CG/Live-Action adaptation of the beloved books by the late great Michael Bond, the film frighteningly had people expecting another Garfield: The Movie, Yogi Bear or The Smurfs. Pre-release the film was blitzed by cynicism and negativity, from rumours surrounding Colin Firth leaving the project, to the first photo of Paddington being deemed creepy and curiously inspiring an online trend of editing poor old Paddington into classic horror movies. Such a tidal wave of pessimism though was met with a wave breaker of charm, as Paddington shocked audiences by being not only good but a magical, masterful, family film with lots to say about acceptance, goodwill and finding a place you can call a home. Receiving rave reviews and box office success, a sequel was guaranteed.
So, is Paddington 2 up to the task of making a great family film (not an easy task by any means) and the even harder duty of doing justice to the acclaimed first film? Well, not only can we answer a solid yes on both counts but also we can safely say that – like the first – Paddington 2 is one of the best films of the year and one of the greatest family features of modern times. Infused with a very traditional British sensibility, this film is a great big bear hug to all and mixes in nostalgic old school cinema stylings with some very worthwhile messages for our often cold and indifferent modern world. In its simple narrative of Paddington raising the money for a book for his Aunt and being falsely imprisoned for its theft, there is an uplifting, marmalade sweet and poignant story here for all ages, with warm and genuine themes about tolerance, being oneself and never forgetting those who helped you along this tough little journey called life.
Every frame is filled with care and it is clear director/writer Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby have truly loved the characters and the story whilst assembling it and once more it delivers in the most glorious of ways. Michael Bond sadly died as this production wrapped up filming (after cameoing in the first film) but we have no doubt about it that he would have been truly proud of this remarkable little film, with a heart bigger than London itself. The screenplay opens with another very emotional personal moment in its title character’s life but continues to follow any heartache with a sequence of unbridled happiness and it all amounts to a film that makes you cry (I did three times in fact), laugh and feel brightened and elated upon leaving the cinema (oh and make sure you stay for the credits, you will most certainly not regret it).
Paddington 2 is just rich in joy and arguably the very definition of it, with scenes that pay tribute to the traditional presentations of the character in the past and others that conjure up a soulful carnival ride of entertainment – from a Mr. Bean esque hairdressing mishap, to a dog chase, to the best cinematic train set piece since Gore Verbinski‘s The Lone Ranger. This movie and its makers have not one mean bone in their collective filmmaking bodies and when Paddington goes about his daily routines, making friends and leaving smiles wherever he goes, his Aunt Lucy’s ethos of “if you’re kind and polite, everything will come right” is practically certified by this wonderfully affirming film that ends on such a marvellous final note.
Ben Whishaw is once more perfect as the voice of Paddington, offering a warm and comforting tone to the character, who is brought to life by some tremendous CGI that seamlessly blends our bear into the film’s warmly coloured cinematography and its politely picturesque presentation of modern London. That feeling carries on with the returning cast from the first film, as Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin as the Brown family each relish the vital part they play in this witty and blissful tale, as does Julie Walters, who is also back as the Brown’s admired housekeeper Mrs. Bird. The cast are all extraordinary and compromised of returning faces (like Peter Capaldi and Jim Broadbent), new supporting names (like Ben Miller and Jessica Hynes) and some cheekily fantastic cameos. However the best new characters introduced are a superb Brendan Gleeson as prison chef Knuckles McGinty and a showstealing Hugh Grant. Grant delivers perhaps his best ever performance as the film’s villainous thespian thief Phoenix Buchanan, throwing himself into it all with absolute glee.
I refuse to believe that it is possible to hate the Paddington movies and with Paddington 2 you realise that these movies are not only utterly delightful but a much needed tonic to a world that really could do with a hard stare for forgetting its manners. This crew really has taken care of this bear and as a result Paddington 2 (like Paddington before it) is beautiful, funny, touching and endlessly re-watchable.
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