‘Paddington’ Most Wanted (Movie Review)

It’s practically unfair how good Paddington 2 is when considering other movies. Seriously, there’s no reason the first Paddington should have been great, let alone have a sequel that tops it, and now other films coming this year will have to compete with hopes to have the same genuine level of quality. This is the rare family film treat that can work for everyone due to how enjoyable the comedy is, how sweet the film is, and just how well it puts in a message without drowning it out thanks to the terrific work from all the actors involved. If that praise seems excessive, so be it, but Paddington 2 is exceedingly good at being a charming, fun film that also finds a way to matter in today’s age.

Following a brief Peru-set prologue, reminding audiences why Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) has a great deal of love for his Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) and Uncle Pastuzo (Michael Gambon), we find Paddington in search of the perfect gift for his aunt’s 100th birthday. Paddington soon comes across a beautiful pop-up book of London, but it costs far too much money. His solution is to work and earn money, but this plan is upset by a thief who steals the book for his own purposes. Unfortunately, the police catch Paddington instead of the thief and the lovable bear is sentenced to 10 years in prison. Now it will be up to the Brown family to find the real thief, while Paddington deals with his time behind bars.

As the first film has already established how little it matters that a walking, talking bear can exist with humans in London, Paddington 2 works as the best kind of sequel. It is a film less concerned with being bigger and better by rehashing the story of the first movie and fully prepared to make good by further exploring what made the character and the previous film work while heading in a new direction. As a result, the movie feels familiar in all the right kinds of ways, yet it delivers a clever standalone story complete with character arcs and a fantastic new villain.

That villain is Phoenix Buchanan, a washed-up, narcissistic actor portrayed with gusto by Hugh Grant. I don’t know what it is about these Paddington films that make all the UK actors feel free to be as loose as possible, but it is very welcome. Grant is terrific playing up the silliness of his character, without taking over the film. He’s a delight every time he is on screen, but equal praise can still go to other series’ stars, including Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent and Peter Capaldi. Another addition is Brendan Gleeson, who not only gets one of my favorite jokes in a film full of great ones but adds a sweet, dramatic angle to a movie that already allows for plenty of empathy.

Part of the joy of these Paddington films is getting the same feeling I got from WALL-E. There is no overt malevolence here, beyond whatever the villain may be up to. The humor is never mean-spirited or tiptoeing into Shrek-like adult-themed jokes. Instead, the comedy and enchantment come from how Paddington, much like WALL-E, inspires everyone around him to be better or want to be better. His presence creates excitement and curiosity among his neighbors and others he is surrounded by, such as the prison inmates he eventually finds himself among. Not hurting at all is the message it’s sending.

Despite being a talking bear, it’s no accident that we are seeing this come from a Peruvian immigrant. The whole film makes a clear point of how a foreigner has entered into a new country and has helped to make things better for those around him. Only Capaldi’s Mr. Curry speaks against Paddington, and he is portrayed as an ignorant man not seeing the benefits the bear has had on the neighborhood, assuming the worst instead. This does not mean writer/director Paul King is making a film preaching the universal good of anyone ever entering a new country, but it does speak to the idea of seeing the good for what it is. Especially when it is so plainly visible and how it’s okay to look positively on giving the benefit of the doubt to new arrivals, particularly when presented in such a harmless package.

Messaging aside, the film is so brilliantly constructed as well. A chase scene calls to mind films like Ratatouille for the creativity of watching two individuals on the streets finding clever ways to keep up or getaway. An action sequence towards the end evokes Mission: Impossible of all films and it’s also fairly elaborate. The visual effects to bring Paddington to life continue to impress for doing what is needed to make the bear feel real enough, but neither to a scary degree nor one that is too cutesy. This means getting to see the innocence in a few screwball comedy setups, which once again emphasizes how universally appealing the humor is thanks to the tone, implications and fine voice work by Whishaw.

Between the many fun sight gags and inspired comedy bits from the main and supporting actors, there is plenty to enjoy even in the background when it comes to this film. That says a lot, as there’s no reason Paddington 2 needed to be all that clever or sweet and yet here we are with a fantastic film that is loads better than other recent family movies involving CG animal characters placed in the real world. Paddington 2 is the real deal, and anyone would be lucky to have some fun with him.

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