The first half hour of Paddington 2 plays out much like the 2014 original, with the requisite Rube Goldberg-ian pratfalls involving Paddington making a mess. This is all well and good, as the characters retain their charms and then some. King begins to repeat himself, as is expected for a family-friendly sequel, but Paddington 2 truly steps out on its own path once Paddington is sent to jail. The film leaves the Final Destination-esque mishaps behind in exchange for impeccable comedy bits and lengthy tracking shots. The original had some of the former, though not as much as exists here, and none of the latter, and while the chaotic escalation was nothing to sneeze at, the tracking shots induce open-mouthed astonishment. King includes several over the course of the film, each more incredible than the last. The grand finale culminates in a sensory overload, moving from an emotional scene immediately into an ecstatic one and leaving the viewer wholly satisfied.
Ben Whishaw as Paddington continues to do excellent work, unfailingly polite and good-natured and quick with the repartee. The Browns are able support, with Bonneville doing un-self-conscious work, Hawkins appealingly daffy, and the teens ably demonstrating adolescent obsessions and weaknesses. For who wins the film, however, it’s a toss-up between new additions Grant and Brendan Gleeson as Knuckles McGinty, the gruff prison cook. Grant’s Buchanan is a formerly famous thespian reduced to doing degrading dog food commercials, a state not as dire as Grant’s own but not completely dissimilar. Paddington 2 should be for Grant what Buchanan longs for; a vault back into a respectable tier of actor. Grant has never been better, a pompous man who pretends he loves people, a vain man who doesn’t mind putting on a giant dog suit, a famous face with a thousand costumes. Gleeson, on the other hand, has no need for a comeback, but Paddington 2 may well open up a new comedic career for him. He’s a flawless straight man to Paddington, a bear who never met a sourpuss he couldn’t sweeten. McGinty is plenty sour, but he’s no match for a hard stare and a well-placed marmalade sandwich. A good chunk of Gleeson’s goodwill is simply his pronunciation of words like ‘bagwette’ and the high register in which he says ‘mar-ma-lade’ when hearing the word for the first time. Gleeson has the slight edge over Grant, but then Grant is at the center of that joyous final scene, so being forced to choose one or the other is difficult and unnecessary. They’re both great, and so is their film.
Paddington’s motto of ‘if you’re kind and polite, the world will be right’ is a balm for the London of the film and a suitable takeaway for any family film. So many of those go with an affirmational optimism as their message, a clarion call to achieve big things and dream past the point of realistic outcomes. Instead, Paddington simply demonstrates the value of a small gesture, gestures that accumulate and do the work of improving people’s lives. Paddington 2 opens with a baby Paddington first meeting Aunt Lucy and Uncle Pastuzo (Albert Finney), when they saved him from a river and raised him as their own. Their good deed radiates out into the world, until a prison has been transformed into a Wes Andersonian wonderland. Film critic David Ehrlich put Paddington 2 into the category of ‘nicecore,’ a style of film where earnestness and good humor carry the day. In the future, when nicecore films are regularly delivering salves to the soul, we’ll have Paddington 2 to thank. A-