While the first “Paddington” movie was thoroughly charming and delightful, the second one is even more winsome and twice as funny, with a hilarious villain in Hugh Grant. (His BAFTA nomination was well-earned, as is one for the film itself, which is just now opening in the U.S.)
In the sequel, Paddington (voiced again by Ben Whishaw) has settled in nicely not only to the Brown household, but to their entire neighborhood. Like a far-less annoying Pollyanna, he brings out the good in everyone, transforming everyone through his acts of kindness, which were all learned from his beloved Aunt Lucy.
Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton) is still back in Peru and Paddington is anxious to find just the right birthday present for her 100th birthday. He finally finds one in a rare pop-up book of London, reasoning that if Aunt Lucy can’t come to England (which was always her dream), he can bring a little bit of London to her.
And that’s where things go awry. When the book is stolen, Paddington is blamed and sent to prison! There he befriends some colorful characters, including a gruff Brendan Gleeson (is he ever anything but gruff?) and Noah Taylor. That’s when the film, which boasts the same eye-popping set design and color palette as the first film, begins to remind you of Wes Anderson’s gorgeous “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which featured its own comic prison setting and glorious set design. (Now that’s a crossover I’d love to see!)
The weakest element in the first film was the nonsensically mad scientist played by Nicole Kidman, who wanted to (the horror!) kill and stuff Paddington. Hugh Grant as a faded but still pompous actor named Phoenix Buchanan makes for a far more entertaining bad guy and Grant plays the hell out of it. I don’t think he’s ever had this much fun with a role and likely the audience hasn’t either. He’s like Norma Desmond by way of Alexander Dane (Alan Rickman’s Shakespearean-trained character in “Galaxy Quest”), forever reliving his past triumphs.
I can’t recall the last time I laughed so hard in a film. And yet the movie is about more than slapstick and thrilling chases. It might also make you tear up a bit, especially if you’ve ever had anyone in your life like Aunt Lucy.
While there are some perilous situations for Paddington, and some genuinely sad moments, it’s a fun, wonderfully heartwarming movie that’s impossible not to love. Needless to say, Paddington and the Browns could be around for several more adventures. And perhaps we’ll see more of Wolfie, the stray Irish Wolfhound whom Paddington befriends (and who comes in very handy at one point.)
Like the enormous batch of marmalade Paddington cooks up, the film has a lot of sugar in it, but never too much.
And don’t forget to stay for the credits!