Paddington 2 Review
Paddington was a surprise hit, but only a surprise because some of us had hardly dared imagine that Michael Bond’s much-loved character would be treated so well. Paul King’s deft direction captured the charm of the stories so perfectly that it felt like an extension rather than an imitation. He’s done it all over again and Paddington 2 might be even better. The legwork is done, the setup settled, so there’s a confidence to the new adventure and it’s an utter joy.
Paddington is settled in his home with the Brown family and Mrs Bird. Aunt Lucy’s birthday is coming up and he wants to find her something special to send to her in Darkest Peru. Mr Gruber has a pop-up book of London, which would be perfect, except it is very expensive. Undeterred, Paddington earns money from odd jobs, but a narcissistic out-of-work actor that knows it is really a treasure map of sorts steals the book. Paddington is framed for the theft and imprisoned with a motley band of career-criminals, but the Brown’s are determined to prove his innocence.
We have to face facts: Paddington is animated, which I know is hard to hear, but the work is extraordinary, faultlessly crossed between a cartoon and an actual furry little bear. The trick might be in how the affectionately clumsy, duffel-coated diminutive figure is held in the frame at any given moment; while the sets are ostensibly real, they aren’t quite.
Paddington’s storybook London is the fantasy that his Aunt Lucy dreams of, a place in which Mary Poppins would still feel welcome and we wish could exist, slightly in the past, slightly in the future. This was just the same in the first film, yet accentuated here because the plot is centred around the London landmark pop-up book MacGuffin. A wry touch that embodies a sense of storytelling and also allows for a stunning, ambitiously animated sequence where Paddington daydreams a tour of the pop-up London with his Aunt Lucy.
The palette and composition are similar to a Wes Anderson film, especially as characters are often centred and looking into the camera. But the gentle worlds Anderson creates are slightly skewed and he delights in irony. Paddington hasn’t heard of irony; unless it’s that thing Mrs Bird does with Mr Brown’s shirts.
Paddington’s good faith in, well, everything, delivers even the silliest moments and the film is full of ingenuity and frothy slapstick thick with nostalgia that pays tribute to everything from Mission Impossible to Chaplin. It will leave you with a daft grin, much like Pixar; a character-led story leading to a glorious finale via a handful of set-pieces lifted from Michael Bond’s original stories. Otherwise, it’s an original plot, but Michael Bond’s method, so there is little sense of sentimentality because the film can wrap up all of its morals into that one character. Paddington affects the narrative just how he physically influences those around him. He’s a gentle, honest soul in the tradition of George Bailey and the spirit of the story emanates from him.
The cast is having fantastic fun, like gutsy Mrs Bird (Julie Walters). Hugh Bonneville’s Mr Brown is not as uptight as he was and still to be found getting into a scrape or two that requires him to dress up as a woman, which is always fun for the supposed straight man. The brilliant Sally Hawkins is great as his free-spirited wife and it’s wonderful to see her getting recognition for both this and The Shape of Water which just demonstrates her versatility. Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin return as the two kids, fleshing out the family in which Paddington is now very much a part of and a couple of the supporting characters return too, such as Peter Capaldi, who hasn’t learned a thing, and Jim Broadbent’s Mr Gruber. The new characters are fantastic, especially Brendan Gleeson as the wonderfully monikered Knuckles McGinty. A terrifying fellow, until faced with a marmalade sandwich.
"Brexit, Trump, and now me getting prizes. Truly, we are in the end of days", said Hugh Grant, accepting Best Supporting Actor from the Critics Circle. Perhaps he’s right, but blimey he earned it, almost stealing the film as villainous Phoenix Buchanan, a pompous actor whose best days are behind him. Suggestions this is a meta-Birdman-like role are not without merit, but instantly disproved because Grant is a revelation. He’s always been good but settled in the English fop character he does so well. Here, in a role written for him, he couldn’t be better.
There’s no stealing this film from Paddington though and if Hugh Grant or anyone else succeeded, they’d only feel guilty. Ben Whishaw’s delicate nervous enthusiasm in Paddington’s voice is pitched so well that it’ll probably be his mannered pronunciation you hear when you next read the books. That’s no bad thing. We are all better for knowing Paddington Bear and Paul King has crafted a masterpiece of a children’s film, no matter how old you are. The balance of Paddington’s optimistic, unassuming tone against slapstick fun is handled brilliantly, seemingly effortlessly, but that can be a curse. If it looks simple, it is almost certainly anything but. King, along with co-writer and cameo actor Simon Farnaby, and a superb cast, have achieved something genuinely wonderful and endlessly watchable for generations to come. A score is redundant.
The film suffered a ridiculous backlash on the Internet. All of the cynical keyboard warriors, who felt it was of utmost importance to question how Paddington 2 could be so well-reviewed, deserve one of Paddington’s very hard stares, reserved especially for those who have forgotten their manners.
Paddington himself is an exquisite creation by Pablo Grillo and utterly convincing. The film has sequences both bright and pastel colourful or darker, both perfectly realised on Blu-Ray, the image crisp and balanced throughout. There is considerable detail throughout, from Paddington’s fur to the tactile sets around him.
The sound design is astonishing. The set-pieces have a crash-bang-wallop quality to them as required with a wide open stage, but Paddington’s soft voice that would never wish to intrude is clear and centred. The lovely score by Dario Marianelli complements the film and the balance is reproduced perfectly.
Director’s Commentary - It speaks to the enthusiasm for Paddington Bear that we get such an open insight into the making of what could have been “just a kid’s film” and this commentary is excellent, respecting audiences of all ages. Paul King is a great listen and there are no dead spots in his cheerful anecdotes and insight into how they brought Paddington to the screen a second time.
Paddington 2: The Challenges of Making the Film (4m) - a short look at the effects work. Brief, but interesting nonetheless.
“Rain On The Roof” (2m) - This is a glorious treat for everyone who enjoyed the post-credits sequence. Here it is in full-screen. I'd describe it in more detail, but that would spoil it for those of you that haven't seen it.
BAFTA Q&A with David Heyman, Paul King, Simon Farnaby, Hugh Grant and Pablo Grillo (35m) - An excellent companion to the commentary which again digs into the production, takes the mickey out of Hugh Grant -who is a very good sport- and importantly allows grown-ups another excuse to wrestle the Blu-Ray from their kids (though this is fun enough that they'll enjoy it too).
Paddington 2 is released on Blu-Ray, 4K UHD and DVD on the 12th March. It will be available for digital download on the 5th March. It will also be released as a Blu-Ray Steelbook and as a box-set with the first Paddington film. Available to pre-order now: http://scnl.co/Paddington2HE