Director: Paul King
Cast: Hugh Grant, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Ben Whishaw
It’s one thing to like your city and another to love it. It’s been three years since Paddington but director Paul King’s love for London has not wavered even the slightest, Brexit or not. With Paddington 2, King again attempts to make us fall in love with a city we have never lived in and is successful at it — all with the help of a wee bear.
In 2014, Paddington turned out to be one of the most intelligent, entertaining and emotional children’s movie in recent years, more than it had any right or expectation to be. It had the colour and beauty of Wes Anderson, the creative storytelling of Edgar Wright and the heart of Disney-Pixar. Years later, the sequel only gilds the franchise with yet another story full of heart, humour, adventure and friendship.
From the opening flashback of the day Aunt Lucy and Uncle Pastuzo found and saved Paddington as a baby to the very last second of the very last, very blissfully cathartic scene, there are multiple moments that will convince you that crying in a theatre full of children is not beneath you. From the recap of the family’s lives a year since they took the bear in, to Hugh Grant’s grandiose end-credit performance, there are scenes that make you giggle, roar and roll on the floor with laughter. It is, once again, a complete and wholesome package of a film.
This time, Paddington, all settled in with the Brown family, is looking for a perfect gift for his Aunt Lucy’s birthday. When he finally finds a pop-up book of London, he realises it is just the right gift. He imagines Aunt Lucy reading it through an animation so stunning, and almost poetic in its beauty, it’s one of the best I’ve ever seen. Suddenly, you want her to have that book at any cost, even if it means washing the entire London’s windows, which is just what the bear does.
However, a mean old yesteryear actor (played by Hugh Grant) and dog food ambassador also sets his eyes on the book. He believes it leads to a treasure that will help him re-establish his one-man show on West-End. But that won’t be so easy for the actor and his acting dreams, considering what happened to Cruella deVil stand in, Nicole Kidman in the last film. The bear is heavily armed, with polite manners and a sweet, caring family on his side.
The bear turns a series of unfortunate events, fortunate every time just by the power of his good heart. A dark prison full of mean old criminals turns into a Budapest Hotel of pink uniforms, balcony gardens and French macrons. He makes army veterans fall in love with newspaper vendors, helps garbage truck drivers graduate and just makes London a whole lot more colourful. It may be delusional to expect love and respect be responded with empathy and selflessness in the cold harsh truth of the real world, but the film might just give you that moment of warmth.
He does all this not without the help of others around him. The relationship between Hugh Bonneville and Paddington may not be the centre of the sequel but it doesn’t make you root for them any less. He is the cuddly dad, now struggling with a ‘mid-life crisis’ at work, but still ready to leave it all behind when his family needs him to. Sally Hawkins, when not recreating The Shape Of Water underwater scenes, is still the excited doting mother.
Hugh Grant, however, shines above them all. After Cloud Atlas and Paddington 2, it leaves me with no doubt that he actually always wanted roles like Johnny Depp’s but the world always threw John Cusack’s at him. With his wide blue eyes, wrinkly smile that spreads creepily across his face, he does all he can to be the weird actor ready to send bear cubs to jail for a book. His excitement for the role almost brims out of several scenes when he reads out long monologues as Hamlet, Sherlock or the roadside thug. He clearly loved playing Phoenix Buchanan, or maybe the paycheck was too fat. I’d like to believe the former.
The star of the film is of course the bear, which actually means the animation department and the polite voice talent of Ben Whishaw. The hard stare is still as effective as before, making criminals feel hot with nervousness; the smiles and hugs are genuine enough to make you crave for one yourself. It could have ended up quite differently to fit a fully animated bear in scenes with actual humans but never for once does it strike you as anything abnormal. Paddington may just be the most ‘human’ of them all.
Paddington 2 has done what many franchises couldn’t: make a sequel about a brave bear brilliant, beautiful and better than the original. For that, it just may deserve the BAFTAs nominations after all.