Paddington 2, 2017, 3 ¼ stars

Paddington 2  magical but overstuffed

Image copyright StudioCanal / Warner Brothers

Exclusive to MeierMovies.com, January 12, 2018

Everyone’s favorite British bear is back, and though he’s a little worn around the edges when compared with his previous cinematic outing three years ago, he’s still welcome on my front stoop any day.

After the critical and commercial success of Paddington (2014), writer-director Paul King has returned with a fresh tale packed with slapstick comedy, silly hijinks, heart and even a bit of genuine drama (based on Michael Bond’s beloved books from the 1950s and ‘60s). In fact, this bear story is overstuffed, as it sandwiches in almost more than a 103-minute film can hold, including a rushed ending that stretches believability. Still, Paddington is his loveable, charming self, even if some of the franchise’s originality has worn off.

Paddington 2 reunites most of the cast of the first film, including Hugh Bonneville as Mr. Brown, Sally Hawkins (what a year she’s had!) as Mrs. Brown, Jim Broadbent as Paddington’s shopkeeper friend, Julie Waters as Mrs. Bird and Ben Whishaw as the voice of Paddington. If you keep your ears pricked up – and have a working knowledge of British actors – you’re in for some cameo treats, and none is yummier than Brendan Gleeson as Paddington’s new friend. One of his generation’s most underrated actors, he’s simply superb and keeps the film chugging along when it starts to sag.

The most prominent new addition is Hugh Grant, who bombastically relishes his chance to be, well, Hugh Grant. Hamming his way through multiple vignettes and into a variety of costumes, Grant is clearly in his element, even as his shtick grows tiresome and the plot convoluted. Taking over the villain role from the first film’s Nicole Kidman, Grant’s character hatches a plot to steal a valuable pop-up book and pin the crime on Paddington, who longed to send the book to his aunt Lucy back in the wilds of Peru. But when the police indeed suspect Paddington, our furry hero finds himself in a jam stickier than his favorite marmalade.

One of the underlying themes of the film is multiculturalism, as it preaches that Paddington’s neighborhood is all the richer for the inclusion of a South American bear. In reality, the only bears in the city reside in the London Zoo, but the film does hint that modern London is better for the presence of immigrants. That post-Brexit message might be appropriate, but it’s also a bit heavy-handed. Still, it serves to balance the flick’s physically funny moments, which include a priceless tribute to London’s own Charlie Chaplin. (That scene’s comedic timing works like clockwork.)

Praise should be heaped on the CGI animators for again creating a wholly believable bear, in addition to some charming set pieces – the highlight being a stunning re-creation of the aforementioned English pop-up book. (Coco has nothing on that breathtaking sequence.) Though you might find yourself longing for a little less computer animation, it’s tough to fault the artists. Oh, and in case you think the humor is all visual, be on the lookout for the screenplay’s clever meta-theatricality, such as when the always painfully honest Mrs. Bird opines, “Actors are some of the most evil, devious people on the planet. They lie for a living.”

Being fiction, Paddington 2 also tells a lie. But it’s a lie that children will love and parents will enjoy, even if many childless adults find it just bearable.

Copyright 2018 © Cameron Meier