Paddington 2 **** / *****
Directed by: Paul King.
Written by: Paul King and Simon Farnaby based on Paddington Bear created by Michael Bond.
Starring: Ben Whishaw (Paddington), Sally Hawkins (Mary Brown), Hugh Bonneville (Henry Brown), Julie Walters (Mrs. Bird), Hugh Grant (Phoenix Buchanan), Brendan Gleeson (Knuckles McGinty), Michael Gambon (Uncle Pastuzo), Imelda Staunton (Aunt Lucy), Madeleine Harris (Judy Brown), Samuel Joslin (Jonathan Brown), Jim Broadbent (Mr. Gruber), Tom Conti (Judge Gerald Biggleswade), Peter Capaldi (Mr. Curry), Richard Ayoade (Forensic Investigator), Noah Taylor (Phibs), Dame Eileen Atkins (Madame Kozlova).
In the film, Paddington is determined to get the perfect birthday present for his Aunt Lucy – because it’s not every day a bear turns 100 after all – and when he sees a one of a kind pop-up book in an antique store, he knows he has found the perfect gift. It costs a lot of money though – so Paddington sets about trying to make it. His plan is foiled though because he tells Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), a once famous actor, about the book – and he wants it for himself, for nefarious purposes. Through a series of events too complicated to mention, Paddington ends up arrested, and thrown into prison for stealing the book – but Paddington being Paddington, he quickly makes friends with all the inmates, as the Brown family sets about trying to prove his innocence.
There are few films I have ever seen that are as sweet as Paddington 2. The film is pure goofy fun pretty much from beginning to end. Director Paul King really outdoes his work from the previous film here. Much of the film’s visual look feels like a nod to Wes Anderson – the love of miniatures and pop-up books, the design of the prison (and the prison uniforms) – but there’s lot of other influences filtered in here as well – from Chaplin’s Modern Times to Keaton’s The General, and a whole lot else. Hugh Grant gives perhaps the best performance of his career as Phoenix – he’s in full Alec Guinness in Kind Hearts and Coronets mode here, and he is an utter delight from beginning to end. Ben Whishaw, who often plays creepy characters, turned out to be the most utterly perfect choice to play Paddington imaginable.
The film is, simply put, a joy to behold from beginning to end. It’s not often I rave this much about a movie about a talking bear, and still think I’ve undersold it – but that very well may be the case here. The first highlight of the 2018 movie year is clearly this film, which I loved unashamedly.