It is a rare pleasure to watch a film of truly universal appeal – approachable to all ages and dispositions. Paddington 2 is a delightful Mille-feuille, delectable in every way and structured with care and attention. It deserves the widest audience possible.
After arriving in London and finding a loving family, the Browns, in the creditable but somewhat ordinary previous film, Paddington begins this sequel as a fixture in his local community. Ben Whishaw’s voice work brings to life this vivacious, shy and careful character impressively, and shows us a bear appreciated by only some of his neighbours.
This assorted cast is joined by the wonderfully self-deprecating Hugh Grant as Phoenix Buchanan, delusional actor in decline. He and Paddington have eyes for the same beautiful pop-up book for different ends, and the resultant squabble soon sees Paddington framed for burglary and locked up. As the Browns race to exonerate him, he makes his own way in the harsh world of the British prison system.
The story told is an enjoyable romp, but it’s the manner of its telling that hits home. Paul King and Simon Farnaby have written a universe in which no character is judged – whether their failings be major or minor. Jokes are well-meaning, gags non-pejorative and punchlines gentle; they are also free-flowing and genuinely funny, and the result is a huge success in tone. Paddington 2 is utterly pleasant, enveloping us in a version of modern London we know doesn’t exist, but that we wish we could inhabit.
This joyous worldview is allied with the sort of competency and careful preparation a galling number of films ignore. Character payoffs in the final act are, shockingly, set up in the first. That all are done so subtly and satisfyingly is another feather in the film’s red bucket hat. King, in his role as director, also slips in countless references to influences as diverse and inspirational as Chaplin, Wes Anderson and George Lucas, and each is a pleasure to uncover – a validation of the feeling that Paddington 2 ranks with such greats.
As the plot unfurls, a supporting cast of Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson and others do sterling work, but Hugh Grant merits special mention. His prima donna Phoenix’s every line is delivered with lacerating humour and panache. His knowledge of actorly pretensions clearly stands him in good stead, and his willingness to get in costume stands out at multiple points. If Johnny Depp was nominated for an Oscar for his first turn as Captain Jack Sparrow, it surely stands to reason that Grant be similarly recognised for a superb piece of comic acting.
Paddington 2 is quite certainly one the films of 2017, and certainly its most heartwarming – now it remains only to see what its creators can manage if deservedly rewarded with a third film.