‘Paddington 2’ bear necessity
Deliciously funny Hugh Grant makes lovable bear’s sequel impossible to resist
PADDINGTON was uncommonly charming and Paddington 2 is very nearly as good. That said, for about nine minutes, you may have minor concerns. Will this film merely coast on the cosy lovability that made its forebear (sorry) such a joy? How can the bar be nudged up and who’s going to do it?
Everyone’s favourite ursine Peruvian immigrant left his debut in such a warm and happy place that there’s a nagging lack of comic friction as we dive back in.
The Brown family, living in their perfect multicultural haven of Windsor Gardens, are trying out some new eccentric hobbies, are they?
Forgive us, makers of Paddington 2, for a light tapping of feet.
Impatience is dispelled for good as the plot kicks in and it turns out – with all due respect to returning leads Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins, not to mention Ben Whishaw’s cuddly vocal work – to be all about the guest stars.
The first set-piece to get dear, disaster-prone Paddington spinning from the rafters involves a barbershop, Tom Conti as a pompous judge and a set of vibrating clippers.
We start to feel in safe hands once again, but it takes this burst of skittering chaos to do it.
And then Hugh Grant arrives. Essentially filling Nicole Kidman’s shoes as this instalment’s star villain, his role as a deliciously self-absorbed West End acting legend called Phoenix Buchanan is the gift that keeps on giving.
Through his machinations – it’s all to do with an antique pop-up book Paddington covets, which contains the clues, quite without him knowing, to a long-lost treasure stash – the poor bear is framed for robbery and sentenced by a vindictive Conti to 10 years in jail.
His letters to beloved, 100-year-old Aunt Lucy suddenly have a mournful bent, though he does find time, by way of silver linings, to praise the prison’s imposing Victorian architecture and tip-top security.
Returning director Paul King, in cahoots with new co-writer Simon Farnaby, proves that the crackpot inspiration that powered his first one was no fluke. Prison is exactly the place for Paddington, in the sense that his understated melancholy makes him seem even more adorable behind bars.
The shadow of his outsider status returns and there’s a whole new set of characters to win over with his quaint, flummoxed ways.
Before long the refectory’s terrifying chef (a wild-eyed Brendan Gleeson) has been tamed and befriended through the simple power of marmalade. Paddington’s fellow inmates, meanwhile, stop grizzling, start skipping and go on to exercise previously unguessed talents in confectionery-making.
Our fashion-conscious bear, for one, thinks their new pink coveralls (his fault) are actually rather fetching. Point: Paddington.
Back at Windsor Gardens, the Browns run around to establish their brother’s innocence, with only one toxic, get-off-my-lawn neighbour wishing he’d stay behind lock and key. Beyond Conti, who lifts his walk-on role with gusto, and the briefly hilarious Eileen Atkins as a dotty fortune teller, the film gets all its biggest laughs from Gleeson and Grant, doing variations – but sublime ones – on the grumpy-giant routine and the vain git routine they habitually excel at.
Grant’s role, a prime contender for his funniest ever, is a blissful opportunity for him to ham it up, whether delivering Shakespearean orations to his own wigs, trying to sell a bemused Hawkins on his one-man show or dressing as a nun to infiltrate St Paul’s.
If you can resist the sight of Hugh Grant dressed as a dog and sampling dog-food on a gleefully tatty TV spot – stardom isn’t what it was for Phoenix Buchanan – you’ll probably be able to resist Paddington 2. But it will really take some effort.
BEAR ON A MISSION: Ben Whishaw returns to voice the lovable Paddington Bear