Break out the marmalade, slather it on a sandwich and stash it under your hat in celebration, because Paddington is back. In 2014, the Peruvian mammal journeyed from author Michael Bond's pages to his first movie adventure, and the resulting blend of heartwarming sweetness and madcap goofiness proved an utter delight. Three years later and we're pleased to report that the follow-up is every bit as much of a joy. As with its predecessor, this sequel adores its furry protagonist every bit as much as generations of readers have, and is determined to bring that love to his latest big-screen excursion. But it's also committed to being entertaining; to jovial jokes, smart sight gags and well-meaning silliness. In short, it'll leave you sporting the biggest, sincerest of smiles.
Picking up where part one left off, Paddington 2 sees the eponymous bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw) still happy with the Brown family, both in their hearts and in their home. Risk analyst Henry (Hugh Bonneville) is annoyed about losing out on a promotion, his wife Mary (Sally Hawkins) is preparing to swim the English channel, teenage daughter Judy (Madeleine Harris) has started her own neighbourhood newspaper and son Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) is reinventing himself at school. As for Paddington, he's trying to purchase an antique pop-up book for his beloved Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) back in the jungle. Working odd jobs helps raise the cash he needs, but soon two problems present themselves. The first comes in the form of famed theatre actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), who is after the text as well. The second arises when the prized tome is suddenly stolen.
Quicker than our hero can stuff a toothbrush or two into his ears, Paddington 2 jumps from a carnival to prison to touring London's famous landmarks. With a jailbreak, some amateur sleuthing and a train-top chase included, it's a busy 103 minutes as the talking bear falls victim to prejudice, befriends a burly jail cook (Brendan Gleeson) and tries to restore order. Despite this, however, the movie never feels over-stuffed. Nor is it lacking in visual treats, be it the exceptional CGI work used to bring Paddington to life, or the gorgeous animation that takes viewers through a pop-up world. The film offers up such a feast of precise, playful and picturesque imagery that it's easy to imagine Wes Anderson sitting at the helm.
Indeed, if the man behind Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand BudapestHotel had a British counterpart, it'd be Paddington director Paul King. Before he steered the series' maiden movie outing, the filmmaker directed all 20 episodes of The Mighty Boosh as well as the similarly surreal comedy Bunny and the Bull, and the offbeat sensibilities of both shine through here. Witty, whimsical and filled with wonder, in King's hands the film is a comic caper that offers a warm hug and a fierce rib-tickling at the same time. It also finds room to make a gentle statement about the merits of inclusiveness — a message that feels extra important given the current climate in Paddington's adopted England, as well as the world at large.
All that's left is for the cast to ace their roles, which is exactly what they do. The returnees remain in fine form, with Whishaw's vocal work proving a particularly perfect match for Paddington's famed kindness and politeness. Grant, meanwhile, hams things up spectacularly, turning in his best and most enjoyable performance in years. Moreover, there's an expressiveness and physicality to his efforts that could've worked just as well in a silent movie — as could've much of the immensely bearable fun throughout the film. Everyone talks, of course, but Paddington 2 serves up an array of well-executed nods to cinema history, along with the feeling that it'll be joining all of those classics soon enough. It's not only the best family-friendly flick of 2017, but one of the best of the year in any genre.