The idea that Paddington 2 would start 2018 as Rotten Tomatoes’ best-reviewed movie (it’s still sitting at 100%) makes about as much sense as a walking, talking bear moseying through the streets of London and chatting up the local folk without raising so much as an eyebrow.
But both are true.
Not only does the sequel keep the fun and charm of the 2015 original, it actually improves on it, tightening up the plot, ditching much of the over-the-top, silly physical comedy from the first film, and, in perhaps its most genius stroke, adding Hugh Grant as the villain.
The principal cast from the first film is back including Ben Winshaw as the voice of the titular bear, Hugh Bonneville as dad Henry, Sally Hawkins as mom Mary, and Julie Walters as Mrs. Bird. Paddington 2 picks up most of its steam, though, from its new faces, including Brendan Gleeson as prison cook Knuckles MicGinty, Joanna Lumley as talent agent Felicity Fanshaw, and, of course, Grant as has-been actor Phoenix Buchanan (where do they come up with these names?)
The general gist is that Paddington is looking to buy a special present for his (bear) aunt’s 100th birthday. When visiting the charming antique shop run by Mr. Gruber (Jim Broadbent), he discovers a special pop-up book of London. It’s out of Paddington’s price range, though, so he looks to earn enough money, but in the meantime, Buchanan catches wind of the rare book’s existence and steals it before Paddington can buy it.
The bear is framed for the crime and ends up in jail, where he meets Knuckles (along with a motley crew of merry men) and sets out to get the book back. It’s a straightforward-enough plot, but it’s made flat-out delightful both by the smart and whimsical script co-written by returning writer/director Paul King and by the quirky, almost Wes Anderson-like vision that King brings to the fray. It’s a much more restrained film than the original, focusing on the story much more than the physical comedy (though there’s still plenty of that to go around), and the result is a rock-solid win.
Grant, to no surprise, emerges early on as the secret formula for the success of Paddington 2. Playing a far-past-his-prime actor (now relegated to dressing up as a pooch for dog food commercials…during which he actually samples the product), Grant gives a fabulous performance—one that could have very easily devolved into a campy mess but thankfully is restrained enough to remain just this side of screwball.
There’s so much to love about the movie (yes, even for the adults in the crowd) that it’s impossible to exit the theater without a smile on your face. You may be tempted to pass on Paddington 2, but don’t write it off. We’re barely (bear-ly?) a week or two into the new year, and already we’ve got a bona fide winner on our hands.