When Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) was a very young cub, he was found in a raging torrent by the couple who would go on to bring him up in the wilds of Peru, a very special pair of bears who taught him right from wrong and always to be polite. Since then, he has moved to London to be adopted by the Brown family who have taken him into their home and indeed to their community, where he is welcome with all their neighbours, well, except for Mr Curry (Peter Capaldi), but he's not worth worrying about. What Paddington is currently concerned with is buying a present for his Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton), who will be one hundred years old this year. How about a pop-up book?
The first Paddington movie was greeted with initial wariness thanks to the books by Michael Bond and the just as beloved animated series of the nineteen-seventies holding such a dear place in British culture, but the general reaction once it had been seen was one of surprising admiration, feeling here was a British family movie that deserved its success in an overcrowded field. When the sequel was announced, the anticipation was palpable, and when it was released a few months after the death of Bond it was, if anything, reacted to with even more warmth than the first instalment had been. It wasn't that it had been reassessed, it was simply that the sequel was better.
There were grumblings from the diehard Paddington fans that this follow-up fell into the trap of settling for the action movie influence on the family and animation genres that had become a staple of both, but director Paul King and his co-writer Simon Farnaby (who appears here as a security guard) made sure to sustain a certain British quality about that sequence where a classic steam train was involved. And perhaps more than that, a quintessential English thespian as well, as the villain this time was not the somewhat jarring vivisectionist but a dramatic actor who had hit hard times played by Hugh Grant, who received some of the finest notices of his career, and he was obviously enjoying himself.
What happens is that our bear sees a pop-up book of London in the antiques shop of Mr Gruber (Jim Broadbent) and sets his heart on purchasing it for Aunt Lucy - sadly, there's no mention that bears have two birthdays, according to the Bond originals, one of the lovely eccentricities that made Paddington such a great character. But King was keen to include much of that tone nevertheless, albeit in the format of a family adventure which was necessarily in the modern market always going to be a substantial degree more over the top than the gentle humour of the source, yet even with that reservation, he managed to conjure an atmosphere of sweetness and inclusion to match up with the effect the bear has on those around him. Here the power of simply being a nice person was not to be underestimated.
In fact, the power of being a nice person was Paddington's superpower: he does not have a bad word for anybody, and if he does meet someone nasty, he does his best to wheedle out their better qualities which more often than not exposes their less kind and friendly drawbacks and makes them think over how they are treating others (often instigated at the behest of a Paddington hard stare). Grant's Phoenix Buchanan was not really that bad a sort, at least the film had so much fun with him that despite his activities landing our hero in prison in a miscarriage of justice, and we the audience not wanting to see him get his mitts on the book's treasure trove, it was a mark of the tone of the piece that he was valued for being entertaining, whereas the xenophobic Mr Curry was dismissed as a curmudgeon undeserving of being taken seriously to put him in his place. All this contributed to a sense Paddington 2 had been very carefully curated, and that paid dividends; it may veer too close to frenetic kids' movie noise, but it did have quieter moments, and made convincing promotion of that old phrase, it's nice to be nice. Music by Dario Marianelli.
[Studio Canal's Blu-ray looks and sounds as clear as a bell, with a director's commentary, a making of featurette, a Q&A with the cast and a chance to enjoy Grant's big song and dance number in full screen.]