Anyone who knows me well enough is quite aware how much I loved the original "Paddington", which was released in the U.S. in early 2015. I shall always cherish the most wonderful e-mail I received from a 56-year-old IT professional --- someone who did not "do family films", but read my review and was strongly encouraged to get out there and see it --- twice, maybe even three times! Thank you, Mr. Kirby.
I must admit I was very concerned about "Paddington 2". Sequels are rarely as good as the first --- and who can beat Nicole Kidman as the villain? But I am thrilled to inform our readers that "Paddington 2" is every bit as good as the original, and that Hugh Grant is spectacular!
Grant plays Phoenix Buchanan, a former major star in the U.K., reduced to filming dog commercials and opening local fairs. It is at one of these fair openings where Buchanan meets Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) and learns of a pop-up book in Mr. Gruber's (Jim Broadbent) antique shop, which Paddington believes is the perfect present for his Aunt Lucy's (voiced by Imelda Staunton) 100th birthday.
Buchanan thinks this is the book for which he's been searching --- a book that holds the secret to a glorious treasure buried long ago. Since he is a thespian preparing for a one-man show, Buchanan has an attic full of characters/costumes which enable him to alter his appearance. He breaks into Mr. Gruber's shop one night and manages to get the theft of the pop-up book pinned on poor Paddington.
With no evidence to clear him, Paddington is sentenced to prison, where he runs afoul of the prison cook, "Knuckles" McGinty (Brendan Gleeson). He soon wins over Knuckles and the rest of the inmates with his recipe for marmalade. But when his beloved family, the Browns, Mary (Sally Hawkins), Henry (Hugh Bonneville), Judy (Madeline Harris), Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) and their clever housekeeper, Mrs. Bird (Julie Walters) cannot convince the police that Paddington is innocent, he decides to break out with Knuckles and his crew.
These movies are so adorable --- brilliantly directed by Paul King, who also penned the screenplay with Simon Farnaby. The visual effects by British VFX company Framestore are stunning, and animation director Pablo Grillo has supervised an amazing production. Paddington is so incredibly real, we truly forget he isn't.
Whishaw is perfect voicing the precious bear. His vocals have become synonymous with the lovely and important lessons Paddington is so eager to impart --- given to him by his cherished Aunt Lucy, "If we're kind and polite, the world will be right."
I am so happy all of the family members have returned. Hawkins has had a big year --- "Maudie" and "The Shape of Water" --- but here she is simply a mother worried about her bear child and doing everything she can to save him. There is a water scene with Paddington which is unbelievably touching --- and it also brought back thoughts of her from "The Shape of Water". Hawkins is a treasure --- and she had better win an Oscar!
Bonneville and the children are wonderful --- along with Walters, who is a hoot --- again. But the real stars this time --- like Kidman --- are Grant and Gleeson. They are all in with these roles, and seriously neither has been better. Gleeson, whom David and I have met --- and is totally fabulous, looks like he's having a blast, as well he should. Another actor may have taken this part and phoned it in, but not him. Gleeson is jolly, fun and an exciting addition to the cast.
But it is Grant who really blew me away. Who knew he could sing and dance? Okay, he danced a little in "Love, Actually", but this is a different story. He is a downright riot. King knew he wanted Grant to play Buchanan, so he wrote him a letter describing the part as one of a "vain, washed up, has-been" with Grant in mind. Fortunately for King, Grant thought it was humorous and "threw himself into the role". He's immensely entertaining --- especially in the Busby Berkeley number at the end --- it's a show stopper!
DO NOT tell me that you don't like children's films --- it's annoying. Ask Mr. Kirby --- he'll tell you to change your tune. There are innumerable worthy lessons in "Paddington 2" --- and at this time in America --- we can use them!
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
Fans of the original "Paddington" (and none could be more enthusiastic than Jeanne) from 2015 should admire this sequel at least as much. "Paddington 2" is a sweet and fun family adventure, full of laughs, some surprises and a glittering array of actors.
The great ensemble cast features returnees like Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters and Ben Whishaw again voicing Paddington to perfection. New and welcome additions to the cast include Hugh Grant as Phoenix Buchanan, a washed up actor with many disguises amid a load of debt, now relegated to dog food commercials, and Brendan Gleeson as the fearsome prison cook "Knuckles" McGinty. His signature mantra is "I don't do nuthin' for nobody for nuthin'!"
The movie opens with an exciting sequence where Aunt Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton) and Uncle Pastuzo (voiced by Michael Gambon) save a young bear cub on the brink of disaster. Of course, they are rescuing Paddington, who eventually is discovered in a London train station by the Brown family in the original film.
Paul King again co-writes and directs, fortunate in that here he is the beneficiary of a rather large budget in excess of $130 million. The visual/special effects dazzle again, with approximately 425 visual effects crew people alone.
Early on, Paddington, working in a barber shop to raise money so he can buy a rare London pop-up book for his dear Aunt Lucy's 100th birthday, tries in vain to give a customer a trim. Judge Gerald Biggleswade (Tom Conti), receives a most unwanted haircut --- the effects here are amazing.
One of the more amusing scenes has Paddington daring to challenge the food at the prison where he ends up as a result of his conviction on theft charges. Ultimately several of the inmates stand up to proclaim their culinary specialty, none funnier than the big galoot who announces he can make a strawberry concoction "with a pomegranate glaze".
Grant seems to get better as he ages, last seen on the big screen opposite Meryl Streep in "Florence Foster Jenkins". In "Paddington 2", he plays a nefarious, yet hilarious, villain who gives fits to the title bear and everyone else in the story. Likewise, Gleeson is a hoot as the burly prison cook whom you don't want to cross, let alone defy his singular menu offering. But Knuckles proves to be a softy after tasting Paddington's marmalade sandwiches, and the two become predictable buddies.
Sally Hawkins is everywhere these days, and she is a delightful presence on screen. Following her magical performances this year in "Maudie" and "The Shape of Water", her character this time, Mary Brown, finds herself swimming underwater in an attempt to rescue a trapped Paddington. The look on the bear's face as he seemingly faces certain drowning is a marvelous bit of animation that you have to see to appreciate.
The cast members that "interact" with Paddington all deserve huge kudos for working opposite an unseen character. All the scenes with Paddington are seamless --- we forget he is an animation add-in. And it should be mentioned that a spectacular early sequence with Paddington and Aunt Lucy romping through the pages of the pop-up book are so very clever and imaginative.
The musical/dance sequence among the prison populace with Grant in the finale is superb. "Paddington 2" is truly a film for the whole family.
Opinion: See It Now!