If you thought “Paddington” was as adorable as a kids’ movie about a talking bear could get, you were mistaken. “Paddington 2” sees your “adorable” and raises it with an “inutterably charming,” an Oscar winner and a couple of other prime Brit and Irish character actors. It’s even sweeter, cheek-pinchingly cute and fun to boot.
The London bear (animated, delicately voiced by Ben Whishaw) named for a train station wants to send the aunt who raised him a rare pop-up book that his favorite London antiques dealer (Jim Broadbent, with an Eastern European accent) has for sale.
But there’s this plummy, aging has-been actor (Hugh Grant, PERFECT) who hears about the valuable book from him, and designs to steal it. Paddington is framed for the crime.
“Paddington Goes to the Pokey” ensues. And that’s where Paddington’s ever-so-proper English manners are put to greatest use.
“My Aunt always said, ‘If we’re kind and polite, the world will be right.'”
Prison food is the pits? Take it up with the cook, Knuckels (sic). He’s a gregarious grouch (Brendan Gleeson) but darned if that sweet-mannered bear and his recipe for marmalade don’t win him and the diverse and brutishly whimsical prison population (Noah Taylor of “Shine” among them) over.
The first Paddington movie had enough promise that the cream of British character acting — Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville (funny) return as his “parents,” Julie Walters as the grandmother — raced to sign up for it. And that’s exploded by leaps and bounds for this sequel. Peter Capaldi is the anti-bear martinet neighbor, Joanna Lumley is an agent, Imelda Stanton and Michael Gambon do the voices of the bears who raised Paddington and Tom Conti is the gruff judge who bears a haircut grudge.
Paddington’s prison sentence is based, in part, “on grievous barberly harm.”
And then there’s the Former Pharaoh of Forelock himself, the esteemed Mr. Grant. He lets loose his inner ham for Phoenix Buchanan, once a Prince of the West End Stage, now reduced to donning a dog costume and doing ever-so-proper dogfood commercials, and opening fairs. Grant wraps his tongue around every locution, every punch-line, most of them puns about plays he’s been in.
“Prison is no laughing matter. And I should know. I spent THREE years in ‘Les MIZ!'”
The delightful bluster of Gleeson is topped only by Grant’s outright glee at playing this old actor who dons costumes for capers, and recites lines (in character) to his Scrooge, Magwitch, Hamlet and Poirot (Take THAT Kenny Branagh!) costumes, which he treats as confidants.
I love the light, intensely likable lilt Whishaw (“Q” in the latest James Bond films) gives Paddington’s line-readings. You forget the bear is animated and that bears can’t talk, and your children won’t even need that much encouragement to suspend disbelief.
The sight gags — bear as window-washer, bear as prison cook, bear on the lam from the law — are of a higher order than the first film. The prison newspaper? “Hard Times.” Its headlines? “‘Get out of Jail Free’ card not not legally binding,” “Dry Cleaner’s Money Laundering Case Being Ironed Out.”
Yes, it’s a little long and the opening — a flashback to Paddington’s cubhood and a quick survey of all the lives he touches in his little corner of London — mean that it takes a while to get going.
But the only worry these delightful movies encourage is that Warner Brothers will keep making them after they’ve run out of Bear Living in London jokes, English sightseeing and English sight-gags. “Paddington 2” promises that is still quite a ways off.
MPAA Rating:PG for some action and mild rude humor
Cast: The voice of Ben Whishaw, Sally Hawkins, Hugh Grant, Julie Walters, Brendan Gleeson, Hugh Bonneville, Peter Capaldi, Noah Taylor
Running time: 1:43